Cancer. It’s on my mind.

Life is measured by a series of moments.

Today, Jay Lake died. Yesterday I was diagnosed with cancer for the third time.

I never met Jay Lake in person, and we had a grand total of three or four private conversations. However, he wrote this post for my Special Needs in Strange Worlds series when I first started it on my website and I loved him for it, especially since he was just about to start another round of treatment. He didn’t have to do it. He probably didn’t have the energy to do it, but he did it anyway, and it has been one of my favorite posts because of that.

I read his books. I loved his writing. I appreciated his impact on the genre, and I took his very public battle with cancer as a lesson for how I’d handle my own. The man was a true inspiration in every sense of the word, and his loss will be felt keenly, even by those who never knew him personally.

In recent months, Lake’s battle with cancer has taken on a more somber tone. Cancer had him in its grips, and many of his posts and comments were very introspective and often moved me to tears, because they resonated with me so profoundly. Our cancers are very different, but in many ways, the emotional struggles a cancer patient feels are very similar. It was fantastic that he was giving my own personal thoughts and feelings such a loud, powerful, and attention-grabbing voice.

Yesterday I spent two hours talking to my neighbor, who is going through chemo and radiation for breast cancer. I sat her down in my kitchen, we ate half a cake and talked about the emotional battles we are going through. There are some emotions a cancer patient feels that no one but another cancer patient can understand and it is nice to share those emotions. She told me at one point, “I hear people complain about being bored, or hating work, and I just want to scream. I’d give anything to be bored or hate work. They don’t realize how lucky they are.”

Cancer is a horrible thief that sneaks into your most private places and steals the things you love the most. They are gone before you even realize it. Cancer has the power to take your health, your hope, your happiness, your innocence, and your life.

Some of the things that cancer takes are absolutely impossible to ignore. Regardless of what my PET scan comes back with, I will, in some ways, lose my health. I know it. I am emotionally preparing for it. It’s horrible, and absolutely terrifying, but it will happen.

Other things that cancer takes, your happiness and your hope, your innocence regarding the fragility of life, are optional.

The first time I went through cancer, I was fighting it while I was pregnant, and I think it was some of the hardest, emotionally raw times I’ve ever been through. I still don’t know how I survived, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I probably have some PTSD from it all. The second time I was incredibly depressed and that depression absolutely overwhelmed me and launched me into this realm of hopelessness and anger I didn’t know existed before. On Friday when the bad news started to roll in, I drove around my city for an hour and a half pulling into random parking lots when I was crying too hard to see the road. Yesterday I got my blood work done and my doctor officially moved my status from an “inactive” cancer patient to an “active” cancer patient.

Today Jay Lake died.

All I can think about is some of the things Jay has said in past months. So much of how we handle these horrible things that happen to us is a choice. We can either let life beat us down and break us, or we can accept the burden on our shoulders, and try to walk through those dark valleys as unbowed as we possibly can. Jay gave cancer a hell of a run, and I admire him for it. I admire, more, how he never seemed to let it steal his soul. He remained a shining light throughout, and a true inspiration for me during my own impending battle.

I made an important decision yesterday. My husband was working so I spent the day with my two-year-old, the one who, despite all odds, is perfectly happy and healthy despite the fact that she fought cancer with me before she was even born. I spent the day with her, we sang silly songs and played games and had a lot of fun. I realized that cancer can have my neck. It can, for a time, steal my health. I know it will, occasionally, impact my happiness, but I will never let it steal my soul.

I have a hard time going on Twitter these days. I interact less and less with some people in the genre, not because I don’t admire and respect them, but because the small squabbles and the constant petty drama that circles is just exhausting. I’m in speculative fiction because I love it. I love the authors, and the power they can bring to me with their crafty use of words. I love the way these books make me think and feel. I love the fact that, no matter what, this genre always pulls together and pushes each other to be better. I love how friends are made, and kept, and loved. I love how SpecFic challenges our world, and our own predispositions. I love how this progressive genre is always fighting for the rights of someone, whether it be women, or races, or sexuality. Someone always has a voice, and is always empowered enough to make their voice be heard.

But, as with any group, there is always petty drama, small backbiting conflicts that just exhaust me. There are power struggles and underhanded maneuvers. There are people who would do anything for some limelight, and people who would do anything to undermine others who are “more popular.”

It exhausts me. I don’t know how people find the energy. Life is so fragile, so small, and so beautiful. We should cherish the beauty, not focus on the schisms, and poke them to make them larger.

I regret the fact that it has taken me three diagnoses with cancer to realize that life is a series of small things that matter so much, and even smaller things that shouldn’t matter at all, intermixed with some large glorious, and soul-wrenching moments. Life is defined by how we choose to approach it, and fighters like Jay Lake have shown just how incredible and powerful a life can be when a person chooses honesty, compassion, and positivity over the negative. Lake had some serious dark moments, but who wouldn’t? What really impressed me was how his positivity, and his introspective life observations far outweighed any negativity.

Cancer is a thief, and it has the potential to steal everything.

If you let it.

Yesterday I was diagnosed with cancer again. Today, Jay Lake died.

Two sides of the same, very difficult coin. An unjust coin that so many of us are holding in our hands right now.

However, this is my third time on this carnival ride, so I kind of expect a lot of it now. Things change as soon as I get diagnosed. I seem to prioritize all of my thoughts. I don’t have room for that petty negativity anymore. I can choose how I want to face this, and I choose to face it with positivity. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes the good die young. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. There isn’t much we can do about it. The wheel of life turns and we turn with it. We can let these bad moments bend and twist us, or we can use them to empower us. Hey, shit happens, but it never broke Jay, and I refuse to let it break me. Life is a series of small moments that can make us so strong. Or small moments that can break us. We decide.

That’s what Jay Lake taught me in his very powerful, very public cancer battle.

We decide how we face these demons that haunt us.

Speculative fiction has always been a refuge for me. That’s why I read so much. That’s why, no matter how unpopular my website it, I will always write reviews on it. That’s why I try to make my passion infectious. Authors are so much more powerful than they realize. They speak to our souls, they can cause social changes. They can liven a person’s world, and connect with readers in ways that no one else will be able to.

Speculative fiction makes me happy.

If there’s one thing I can share with the world from my own personal battles, and from watching Jay’s battle, it’s that the small things matter so much. The small things make all the difference. We choose how we want to approach life. We can choose to focus on the petty details, or we can celebrate the glorious moments that make everything brighter.

Life is measured by a series of moments. How we handle those moments defines everything.

I don’t have the energy for the drama, and neither did Jay. I regret that it’s taken me three diagnoses with cancer to realize that it’s okay to not get involved in it, whatever “it” is – whether in the genre or the petty things in life in general. I just don’t care. I enjoyed a year of feeling bored and cancer free, and it was one of the best years of my life. Now I learned that I’m not cancer free, or bored anymore. I could let that break me, but I won’t. I could lament the loss, and focus on “poor/why me” – but I won’t. There is no reason behind these things, and that’s okay. Some things don’t need a reason. We need to deal with them anyway.

I want to follow in Jay Lake’s footsteps.

Life, no matter what is handed to you, is glorious. A friend of mine just had his first baby. I got four books in the mail yesterday. My daughter is amazing. My husband and I are celebrating our seven year anniversary tomorrow. My camera works. The sun is shining. The tree outside of my living room window is huge and a vibrant, healthy green. My kitchen floor is clean. People are laughing. My bed is made. The water I’m drinking is cold.

Small things. They matter so much.

That’s probably why I choose to focus my bookish energy on things like Special Needs in Strange Worlds. I choose to focus on the moments that make things brighter, and the projects that, hopefully, make life a bit better for those who need it. This genre has, and does, mean so much to me. These books empower me, challenge me, make me think.

I can approach this new diagnoses with fear and anger, and let that overwhelm me. Or I can face it with positivity. Sometimes bad things happen, but the small, lovely, wonderful, happy moments so far outweigh the bad. The world, no matter what is happening in it, is still a beautiful place. Life is precious. I can choose to try to give something back to the genre that has given me so much, or I can focus on all the drama.

We all have that choice, whether we have cancer or not.

Raise a glass to Jay. He taught us all so much. His memory will live on through those of us who have been touched so profoundly by a struggle that no one should have to face. He is a giant. He taught me so much, and I will take it with me into my third fight with a disease no one should have.

Thank you.

28 Responses

  • That was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Oh Sarah, I’m sorry 🙁 That sucks so hard. Stay strong xxxx

  • helen

    thats awful. i wish you all the best

  • Jeff Patterson

    You, and things you’ve said or wrote in the past, are one of the reasons I choose not to complain about life, regardless of how much it bites. Your impact is, and WILL continue to be, tangible.

  • Joani

    Thank you for sharing. I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Small things!

  • That was absolutely amazing. I have to always remind myself of those same messages while I struggle through dark places. I can honestly say you’ve moved me to tears and I thank you for reminding me again about the small things.

  • I am so sorry, Sarah. Stay strong, I am thinking of you.

  • Stay strong, Sarah. Our best wishes are with you.

  • John E. O. Stevens

    I am full of sadness and rage at this news. Sending you all the good vibes I can spare.

  • Mark Lawrence

    A powerfully written piece, Sarah. I’ve been reading Jay’s blog this past year – I’m very sorry he’s gone. I don’t have the words for your news – I’m just impressed by your reaction.

  • Kristijan R.

    Stay strong, Sarah. Best wishes.

  • Beautiful, and full of strength.

    I remember when I was going through my own battles with my tumour (and I will be forever thankful than it wasn’t a cancerous one, for all the problems that it did cause me), I tried to keep that outlook on things. When the days sucked and I felt like just lying down and letting it all steamroll over me, I tried to focus on the little positives instead.

    Some days I could. Other days, it was too hard, and I was just too apathetic to care anymore.

    It takes an extraordinary amount of strength just to be able to look past the looming big things and to focus on the smaller pleasing things in life. A lot of people take that ability for granted. But it takes an incredible amount of resolve and a mental shift, and that’s not easy even when you do have some strong motivation to find happier things about life.

  • Peter

    Powerful post. So sorry to hear bad news.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Stay strong, Sarah. You are an inspiration. I wanna be able to talk with you on podcasts for years to come.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Sarah. I admire the realness and graciousness with which you write about your life and your relationship with books and SF&F.

    And all the best for the road ahead.

  • Bravo, darlin’.


  • Powerful and beautifully written. You’re amazing in every sense of the word. I just finished looking at your photography page, too. Is there anything you can’t do? I don’t believe it. 😀

  • Wonderful, beautiful, heart-wrenching post. So happy to hear you spent the day with the little one. She will fight this battle with you, too, and learn of joy and tears and loving and courage. She already knows the beauty of the small things. That’s what little ones do best!

  • You are simply amazing. What an inspiration. God bless, and stay strong.

  • Big D

    Very sorry to hear this news. Your reaction though is beautifully written and very inspirational. Good luck and God bless!

  • Cheryl Holsonbake

    Damn. I’m so sorry, Sarah. Your words are inspiring, but I hate cancer and the fact you have go through treatment again. (((Hugs)))

  • Jaime Lee Moyer (@jaimeleemoyer)

    I don’t know what to say, Sarah, other than I’m sorry. Cancer is the most unfair disease on the planet. I wish it would vanish. Far too many people I know, who I like, and who I’ve loved have battled this monster.

    Fight hard and slay the beast a third time.

  • Oh Sarah, you wrung tears from me. You are in my thoughts and know that so many of us will be rooting for you. I recently picked up Jay’s first book and I’ll definitely be reading it soon.

  • Sarah, we’re totally with you. Negativity and anxiety are truly useless. YOU are a warrior, and you have a legion of supporters cheering you on as you kick this disease in the nethers! RAWR!

    And if your PET scan reveals an alien inside of you instead, you’ve seen Prometheus, right?

  • Powerful post. Good luck, Sarah. I’m sharing this with a friend who can use it right now.

  • That was lovely, Sarah, and so important. Thank you. I will pray for you.

  • Ah Sarah…so sorry to hear you are back in the trenches. Amazing post. Stay strong. Keep fighting the good fight. We are all cheering for you, and anyone else who is fighting against this thief that steals far too much from so many great people. Robin and my thoughts are with you.

  • Teresa Aston

    Sarah, I am a nurse who have worked with children and adults with terminal illnesses. Our bodies have such resiliency and the power to fight the fight. However, our emotional state of mind is linked to the battle you, my patients and my brother have fought. I read your post several times and as a nurse, sister,avid reader and part time writer, I again was amazed at the strength humanity has. Part of the fight aganist diseases such as cancer is the willingness to accept the diagnosis, but not the willingness to accept defeat. My brother was given 3 months to live when he was nine years old. He passed from us last year at 44 yrs old. He has three children, which they (physicians) too stated he would never be able to have. Stay current with all the trials, especially John Hopkins. I have many referances to share and hopefully help someone travel in the direction they feel the need to go. I will be thinking of you.

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