In 2013, it looked like Allie Brosh had disappeared off the face of the Earth, or at least the face of the internet. In reality, she was (of course, duh) still around, but she was in the midst of a years-long struggle to grieve and get a handle on her health, both physically and mentally.
During all the years she was gone, I did periodically wonder what was going on with her. I know I wasn’t alone. Her blog, Hyperbole & a Half, was wildly popular. Why wasn’t she posting more? Or at all? Where did she go?? We missed her alot, is what I’m saying.
Solutions and Other Problems is her explanation for what she was doing during that time, in her own unique way (which I feel confident saying is a way no one else in the world would ever express herself…it’s magical). It’s her explanation for where she went, memories from childhood (of course), and how her life fell apart.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that 2020 was unkind to pretty much everyone, and it was also the year I got my own taste of what happens when your life falls completely apart. When 2020 started, we were still mourning our dog who had unexpectedly died the November before. In January, we learned that our other dog’s cancer had spread and we likely only had a few months with her left. Then March came, and along with it, COVID and quarantining and months of uncertainty and rage. In May, our dog finally succumbed to the cancer she’d been fighting for two years. COVID was still happening, so we had to say goodbye to her with masks on. Meanwhile, the world felt like it was falling apart.
And then, in August, it did. For us at least. I had gone to the dentist in July after finding a strange spot and bump on my tongue. The dentist referred me to an oral surgeon, who did a biopsy. The biopsy, unfortunately, was what alerted me that I had cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of oral cancer. I was referred to a cancer center, and thus began my journey.
After diagnosis, I received my treatment plan, which involved a surgery that removed and reconstructed part of my tongue, removal of lymph nodes in my neck (as unfortunately the cancer had spread) which is horrifyingly known as a neck dissection, and muscle was removed from my leg in order to reconstruct my tongue and replace muscle the cancer had spread into in my neck. Then came radiation and chemo. Now? I’m just healing. I’ve been relearning how to eat and speak. I had a trach for a month and a half. I still have a feeding tube that they won’t take out until I can maintain my weight on my own. My leg is mostly healed but there are lasting effects from the surgery and from radiation that I’ll be dealing with for the rest of my life.
But I’m alive. And, hopefully, cancer free. (I won’t know for sure until my follow up scan in February, but the surgeon was able to get clean margins in all cancerous areas, and my oncologists seem optimistic, which is ABSOLUTELY what you want your oncologists to be, if at all possible.)
Now is the time I’m supposed to be taking it easy, but because I’m starting to feel better, I also want to take on a bunch of new projects. This is not unusual for me this time of year, but it’s a bit out of control right now now. I haven’t done Cannonball in a few years (I meant to last year, but then…well, you know), but this year it felt right. Since Cannonball is HERE in order to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, and I’ve personally benefited from the work that wonderful group does, it doesn’t feel right NOT to do it.
(Sorry for making you read all of that before I actually talked about the book, only not really because that’s kind of my thing.)
If you’re at all familiar with Hyperbole & a Half (the blog and/or the book), you know what to expect from Allie Brosh in Solutions and Other Problems. Somehow Brosh ties together seemingly simple things with hilariously bad drawings (that aren’t BAD bad, they’re obviously GOOD bad) and then your heart hurts? Or you’re laughing so hard that you’re crying? Or you’re crying and laughing at the same time? I love the way Allie Brosh looks at the world, and the way she finds deep connections in even the most mundane of details. Also, I love her stories about her childhood, because children are demented little monsters who kidnap their neighbor’s cat after sneaking into their house without their knowledge TRUE STORY read the book.
I had put off reading this initially because a friend told me that, as funny as the book is, there were some dark and depressing things in it. While I was going through treatment, I was in no headspace to read dark and depressing, but I’m glad I’m at a place now where I finally could. Still, when I got to this page, I almost had to put it down:
(Sometimes you don’t want to be reminded of your shitty medical issue but other times you’re OK with it as long as someone is hilariously illustrating it with Microsoft Paint drawings. Also, sometimes there is something really comforting about knowing that you’re not the only one who is having a terrible time.)
In Solutions and Other Problems, Allie Brosh is, yes, telling us about how her life fell spectacularly to pieces, but she also allowed us to see how she’s going about putting it back together. Better still, she shows us that the pieces might never go back the way they used to, but it’s OK. We’re still here and we’re trying our best, and that’s all that matters.
Crossposted here, along with a bunch of other sad and terrible thoughts about cancer (fun times).