Practical advice and personal wisdom from a four-time cancer survivor.

I felt itchy all day

January 20, 2017 by Julie Negrin

I feel itchy and weird today. Like I took some medicine that’s causing my skin to itch from within the layers of epidermis where I can’t reach.

I’ve felt this way at other times but none are as clear as the night of Sept 10, 2001. 

I had just moved to New York City a few months earlier. I had a cooking gig at a retreat that summer but was looking for work again.  

My studio apartment had a “nook” for my bed. That meant I had a cheap futon couch in my “living room” only a few feet away. Although it is technically a bed, I never ever fall asleep on a couch. Not while watching tv. Not when reading. Not when I’m drunk and about to pass out. Never.

That night, something felt different. I tossed and turned, the itchiness getting worse. 

At some point, something made me get up and move to the couch. I dragged a blanket with me which I left tangled in a mess rather than organizing it like usual. I fell into a restless sleep.

The phone rang.

I woke up foggy and confused. It was my dad, in Seattle, who often gets up between 4:30 and 6am. His voice sounded weird. “Turn on the TV.” “What? Dad, what? It’s so early there. Is mom ok? What’s going on?”

“Just turn on the TV.”

Still the hippie from the west coast, I had rabbit ears on my TV. I’d never paid for cable before. I spent so many years of my twenties traveling, studying, or avoiding unimaginative shows that it didn’t occur to me to order cable once I moved to New York. 

My TV was scratchier than usual but I still had reception. I didn’t know yet that my rabbit ears were getting their reception from the World Trade Towers.

“I don’t understand, Dad. What are they saying?” my usually low voice getting more and more shrill. I don’t remember hanging up. I just remember that itchy feeling invading my brain, my heart, impossible places to scratch even if it were to bring me relief. Which it wouldn’t. 

The itchiness felt like a tangible thing now. It was in the air, on the TV screen. In the voices of the terrified newscasters who were scaring me more than anything else. They are so scared, I remember thinking. They never lose their cool and they are completely freaking out.

Eventually I lost reception.

At the exact same moment that our country lost it’s innocence.

Later, I walked downtown to a friend’s place.

I walked because the subways didn’t work. And the taxis were long gone.

I also walked because I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I had no TV. No smartphone. Nothing streaming on the Internet.

I hadn’t yet learned from my new city that it’s gift to us is it’s pavement to walk off our confusion, our weariness, our frustration. Walking therapy to cope with the harshness of a harsh city.

By the time I made it to Times Square, it was dark.

It looked like something from a Tom Cruise movie. 

There was black gray ash floating through the air.

And it was completely empty.

There was not one car. Not one tourist. Not one harried office worker scuttling across the street.

Just me with the blinking lights above, the ash snow falling, and one black gentleman with a gray beard playing a saxophone. A very slow and sad rendition of America the Beautiful.

We nodded to each other as I passed by.

His music kept me company as I walked into the night.

There is a scene in Once Upon a Time where an evil character unleashes a curse over the town of Storybrooke. Dark, black smoke drifting slowly towards the center of town. Snow, Charming and their daughter, the Savior know they will have to fight hard to stop whatever damage the curse was bringing with it.

That’s how it felt that day in New York, a black cloud of anger and fear swirling around the city.

And that’s how I feel today as I write this at 12:58pm PST on January 20th, 2016.

I can still feel the ashes falling around me as I walked through Manhattan.

The ashes of lost innocence. The ashes of a war zone.

The ashes of my new neighbors, my fellow human beings. Gone from us forever.

The inky smoke now has covered our land.

It’s poison seeping into those who didn’t know they were supposed to fight it off.

And to those of us that know we do.

We will rise up again. This is I know.

We will rise up again, with our light, our faith, our love of country.

We will gather our children. We will call out to our neighbors, no matter who they voted for, and wave to them to join us.

And we will walk. Together. With our arms wrapped around each other.

Until we use sheer strength of will to push back the darkness.

Until we have put it back in the tiny genie bottle where it belongs.

Until that bottle is destroyed once and for all.

Until the dark curse is gone forever.

Until light once again shines on our land.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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  • Hi, my name is Julie Negrin. I’m a nutritionist that’s battled 4 cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once — due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. In the three years since I lost four organs, I've been slowly transforming to "disabled" after living a mostly able-bodied life. I've also had a bunch of other complications including not being able to eat solid foods.... Stick around if you're not afraid of the ugly bits. Much love,

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher

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