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I've Got You Under My Skin

by Lynn Scozzari

"I've got you under my skin. You're deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart that you're really a part of me." Those words were written by Cole Porter and made famous as sung by Frank Sinatra.

This is the song that was playing on the hold music when I called the oncologist office for a prescription refill request the other day. Read the lyrics again, I'll wait.

Maybe most people wouldn't think a thing of it. "Oh, an old standard, how nice. I haven't heard Frank in a while," one might say. "So smooth."

My reaction was different. Perhaps I'm a bit sensitive to the subject of things being under one's skin. However, I thought it a bit ironic, perhaps even cruel, that this song would be what potentially nauseated, exhausted and scared cancer patients hear while waiting for the nurse or doctor to pick up. And, god forbid, tell you frightening results of some scan or blood work.

Once I left my message, I forgot about hearing lyrics and got on with my day just as I've gotten on with my life post-cancer diagnosis and treatment.

I figured it's just one song randomly playing when it's my turn on hold - you know, the draw of songs on their phone system playlist. Perhaps I was being overly sensitive -- the whole stage IV cancer diagnosis and all.

But, unfortunately, I've had to call this office numerous times (thanks to a days old game of phone tag with the nurse practitioner) and guess what? "I've Got You Under My Skin" is apparently the only song I hear while on hold.

Now, in my world of magical thinking, I wonder if this song is just for me. Could it be a coincidence? Has anyone else thought the lyrics hellishly ironic at an oncologist office, where cancer is under a patient's skin, as well as delivery ports, chemo needles and radiation seeds? (I still get nauseated at the thought.)

That's the thing about living after a cancer diagnosis and active treatment- all the details of nurses, and surgeries and toxic chemicals coursing through your cells may not occupy your mind as it once did, but cancer still rents space in the psyche. It's still under your skin in a fashion. After those first few lines, the lyrics go on and I don't believe it's much of a stretch at all to compare to a cancer patient's experience.

"I've tried so not to give in. I've said to myself this affair will never go so well. But why should I try to resist when baby I know so well I've got you under my skin."

...a warning voice that comes in the night and repeats in my ear, don't you know little fool you can never win. Use your mentality, wake up to reality."

Okay, cancer. You want to have a dialogue? I'm game.

Yes, cancer, I've had you under my skin. As a matter of fact you pushed up my skin and formed a big tumor or two on my breast, then parked your cells into my lymph nodes and bones. I guess the chemo and radiation were like the ants that disturbed your cancer picnic with me as host. You tried to penetrate the heart of me, you were really a part of me, and maybe you still are, figuratively or literally. Although a PET scan a year ago shows otherwise. (Yippee!)

I definitely tried not to give in - through chemo, radiation, surgery, and continuing hormonal chemotherapy -- not to mention the alternative therapies I embraced such as prayer, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, Reiki, positive thinking and anything else I thought might help.

"In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night and repeats, repeats in my ear."

The late night - early morning warning voice did haunt me as I was clutching the side of the couch and then the toilet resisting the urge to throw up all over everything. I heard that warning voice while shivering with 102-degree fever from infections brought on from a reduced immune system. That voice also whispered during chemo-cocktail-induced night sweats that drenched my PJs and sheets, smelling how I imagine a Dow Chemical factory must.

"Don't you know little fool, you can never win."

Really cancer? Do you think this is a freaking game?

"Step up, wake up to reality."

I believe we choose our reality. (Perhaps more of my magical thinking.) I choose living as ordinarily as possible, despite the cancer diagnosis that does haunt me occasionally. I choose not to dwell on what may or may not be under my skin or in my organs or bones, despite the reminder song on the oncologist's hold music.

In the past four years, I've come to realize that yes, cancer, I've had you under my skin. You have been a part of me and perhaps still are. The cancer experience has contributed to who I am now, like it or not.

And, thankfully, I am.

Just in case you want to hear the song it can be found here.

Lynn lives in Southern California with her husband, two dogs, three cats, some fish and occasional visits from her college-aged son. Lynn says that inspiration for her writing comes from the most unexpected sources. "If I practice human being vs. human doing, I'm open to what presents itself in the moment, even while on a phone hold." Readers are invited to read her blog for other musings on the cancer experience.