Jay Lake: Writer

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[Cancer]

[cancer] Becoming the invisible man

Illness is a strange thing. You slowly, or sometimes rapidly, fade from view.

I think this is a combination of attempts at consideration on some people’s part, and a reluctance on the part of others to confront the misfortunes that can happen to any of us at any time.

In the couple of years leading up to my initial onset of cancer in 2008, I’d been pretty busy with GoH slots, toastmastering, being an instructor at conferences and otherwise building a sidebar to my writing career as an event headliner. With all due modesty, I think I’m pretty good at it. I’m not even remotely afraid of public speaking, I approach it with a crackling energy, and I’m quite capable of getting a thousand people to sing advertising jingles or do the hokey-pokey. Not to mention bringing my deep love of the field and all you wondrous, quarrelsome people in it. Yes, even those of you who don’t love me back.

Give me a live mic and I’m dangerous.

But since 2008, my invitations have dropped off then dried up, as my illness came back and came back again. I have heard both directly and indirectly, “Well, we considered asking Jay, but we knew he was sick so we didn’t want to bother him.” Which is incredibly frustrating.

Last year, while recuperating from lung surgery, undergoing six months of chemotherapy, experiencing both liver surgery and the recuperation from that, and a seismic shift in my personal life, I still made it to New Zealand’s national convention, WorldCon in Melbourne, several regional conventions in the Pacific Northwest, and wrote a quarter million words of first draft fiction. Not to mention selling almost two dozen pieces of short fiction to markets ranging from Subterranean Online to Realms of Fantasy to tor.com.

I ask you, does that sound like someone who can’t participate in the field?

Yet still, I have found myself becoming more and more invisible.

It is absolutely true that with cancer and its discontents, there are periods of time when I cannot travel, or, frankly, even leave my house. But those aren’t all the time by any stretch of the imagination. For my part, I’d much rather be asked and decline or defer an invitation after discussion, than be dropped from consideration in the first place.

This is why I am so very thrilled that the Renovation convention committee was thoughtful and generous in extending their invitation to me to be one of the masters of ceremony for this year’s Hugo Awards. They inquired about my availability, we had a frank discussion of my health issues and treatment timelines, and I was able to accept the invitation with great joy and pleasure.

It’s not just Renovation. Among others, Surrey International Writers’ Conference and Viable Paradise have both been incredibly generous and supportive of my health issues. As have many, many of my colleagues, friends and fans. But this gesture of inviting me to be one of the Hugo masters of ceremony is an incredibly public way of saying, “yes, you are still one of us”.

Because I will not be invisible. Neither should anyone else you know or know of who’s battling illness, injury, depression, ageing — any of the things that bring us down.

One of the hardest things about cancer is the sense of fading away. I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to Renovation and everyone else who has been so supportive for remembering me, and valuing me, even in the face of this terrible illness.

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