Sometimes life seems surreal. It seems that when reality is intense and authentic, when life is really in my face, the more it is like a crazy story, a science fiction plot unfolding in front of me.
I have a friend, Ellen Harris-Braun, who is smart, loving, well loved, talented and cancer riddled. She is (in no particular order) a researcher, program developer, mother, wife, midwife, friend, daughter, community member, homemaker, grad student, wild-grape jelly maker…
Once upon a time, Ellen was a Science Fiction editor. She worked for Del Rey Books and Random House. She edited for various science-fiction authors including Nebula Prize winners like Nicola Griffith. Today, Ellen’s life is sci-fi.
Characteristics of Science Fiction (according to Wikipedia) are:
- Time setting in the future, or, an alternate time setting
- Spacial setting in outer space or an alternative world (maybe subterranean)
- Characters that are not merely human, possibly mutant, android, robot
- Futuristic or plausible technology (aka Gadgets)
- New, different or made up scientific principles
- New or different social or/or political systems
- Characters often have paranormal abilities
- Sometimes there are other universes, dimensions, timelines and even communication between them
Like life, good fiction uses several (but not every) available possibility. Many of the characteristics of Sci-fi are now playing in Ellen’s life.
- Almost three years into a diagnosis of metastatic Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Ellen is living in a time that wasn't’t supposed to be.
- Both her body and her house are filled with gadgets -from laptops and iPhones, to the fancy silicon port that deposits medication directly into her brain.
- With a silicon brain port, thickly padded hands (to protect from neuropathic pain from chemo) and a shuffling gait, Ellen is a mutation of her former graceful, powerful physique.
- In the Harris-Braun household, social and gender norms are fluid, with the pronouns ‘she’ ‘he’ and ‘they’ all being used for individuals.
In my own experience of living with Ellen’s illness, I find myself thinking of sci-fi daily. On the one hand, I am preparing for Ellen to die soon (way too soon). Emotionally, socially and logistically, there are preparations to make. On the other hand, she might live a long and healthy life: stranger things have happened in real life, not just fairy tales.
Daily, I am acutely aware of these dual paths leading forward. I step forward towards near death/long life, working to create preparations in two realities that cannot exist together. Every day, I imagine receiving the call that she is no longer with us, and every day I imagine Ellen happy, healthy and one hundred years old, laughing under a Hawaiian waterfall.
Sometimes, it seems that when life is most real, it is most surreal. The picture both intensely focused and yet blurred with a beautiful bokeh, as the next scene begins. That is how it feels now. In both life and fiction, I always hope that the author will challenge me but also be kind, that the next chapter will reveal a lovely surprise, and that the end will never come too soon.
K. Michelle Doyle
May all babies be born into loving hands
PS: This essay was posted with Ellen's knowledge and permission. You can follow Ellen's journey at her blog, World of the Sick/World of the Well: breast cancer...again?