Faculty Member C. J. Hribal’s Story “Do I Look Sick To You? (Notes on How to Make Love to a Cancer Patient)” was selected by Ha Jin as a winner of the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, 2017. (This is the second year in a row a member of the WWC/MFA community has won this award.)
The Bellevue Literary Review has an interview with C.J. on their website. It includes a link to the winning story.
What inspired you to write “Do I Look Sick To You”?
I was very much in love with someone who’d had a very rare form of cancer before I knew her. It came roaring back—very aggressive, very resistant to treatment—just as we were talking about marriage. I ended up taking two sets of notes. One set was just trying to keep track of the avalanche of information that was bombarding us—about the disease itself, about treatment protocols, about the drugs and their side effects and the drugs they were using to help alleviate the symptoms of the other drugs they were using. Another set of notes was my emotional response to what was happening to her, to me, to us.
Two things came out of that second set of notes. One was that cancer affects everything, every nook and cranny of your life, and I hadn’t seen a lot written about how it affects intimacy. The other was that there’s a weird counter-narrative out there. We use war and battle metaphors when talking about cancer—we “fight” it. And because we love happy endings, one narrative that’s out there unintentionally is that if you fight it and will it hard enough, you can beat cancer, and if cancer “wins,” then you weren’t fighting or trying hard enough. The first part of that narrative is understandable, even necessary. The second part is pernicious. There are many types of cancer, and some offer you essentially zero chance of survival. I’ve had friends and well-meaning people—cancer survivors—who’ve unintentionally conveyed that message, and part of what was behind this story was giving voice to the rage and to all the other complex emotions people feel when they are “fighting” and “losing” a “battle” they had no chance of “winning.” This doesn’t mean you don’t fight, but sometimes cancer does hold all the cards. Eventually what matters is that we treat each other with kindness and with tenderness.
Read the rest of the interview here: INTERVIEW WITH CJ
And read the award winning story here: Do I Look Sick To You? (Notes on How to Make Love to a Cancer Patient)