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HEALTH

I'm Probably Going to Get Cancer, but My Life Will Be Beautiful

I have a 97 percent chance of developing cancer and zero fear.

Michelle Brasier

Johnny Cash was blaring from the outdoor speakers. My brother and I thought it would be funny to play "Ring of Fire" as people left the church, but we got our timing wrong and it played at the cemetery. Right as we watched Dad get lowered into the ground.

I went down to a burning ring of fire/ went down down down and the flames got higher.
And it burns burns burns/ that ring of fire, that ring of fire.

It was awful but funny. We were laughing so hard we cried. We didn't realize it was just the first funeral. That dad was just the canary in the coal mine.

My brother Paul was an athlete (like my dad) and reached his 40s in pretty good physical condition (unlike my dad.) But at the age of 42, Paul was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Dad had been diagnosed with a pancreatic cancer of unknown origin and died within a week. We hoped for more time with Paul because he was young and relatively fit.

My brother Paul

When he got the diagnosis, Paul decided to take part in a clinical trial of a new cancer drug. It was pretty expensive, but people on the program had a heavy discount, and if you survived the first year of treatment, you got it for free. A money back guarantee if it extended your life, or pay up if you died. Pretty fucking grim.

He didn't get his money. He died while I was in Scotland, so I didn't get to see him go crazy. Toxicity levels from the medication made him angry and confused. His partner, who had lost her previous partner to a plane accident, said goodbye to him when he wasn't himself. The last time I saw my brother I was peeling pistachios for him to eat because the chemo made his feet and fingertips too sensitive to use. We were high watching a show on modern architecture. When my brother smoked weed, he felt better. He had an appetite and he became my brother again. Even my Catholic mother believed in the power of weed, so much that she said she'd grow it for him if she had to.

Paul asked me to record a song for him from our favorite artist and send it to him before he died. But I got too busy and I didn't do it. So instead I performed for him after he'd died, which was pretty useless. I took some ashes to the theater and sat them in the front row like a maniac. Don't judge me—you don't know those weren't his ear ashes. But fuck, grief can make you do stupid shit.

A family selfie. My older sister is in the middle, I'm on the far right

I'm 28 years old. That's 15 years younger than my brother, so I have the biggest head start on our shitty genes. Genetic counselors and doctors generally advise that I avoid animal proteins, processed anything, smoking, stress, and alcohol. But the thing is that we don't know if this will help. My grandmother had pancreatic cancer too, so there is a really strong pattern of it in our family—but both my brother and my dad died so quickly that we didn't have time for extensive testing. This means that we can't get more done until my sister or I get bad news from our more-regular-than-we'd-like colonoscopies. So we live in hope.

My sister is 13 years older than me. She has precancerous polyps in her stomach, which means I'm the only one without any hint of cancer so far. Unfortunately for my sister, there were too many polyps to remove without ripping out her entire stomach lining. They just have to keep checking them and removing the ones that get nasty—one by one.

Every choice I make about what to put into my body is affected by my family history. I was told by a doctor once that I had around a 97 percent chance of developing bowel, stomach, pancreatic, or ovarian cancer. I asked what I could do and he said, "Just catch it."

"Catch it and kill it, and just keep catching it and killing it." Awesome.

I'm pretty positive. I'm resilient and I always see the best in everything. I'm like your dog. Because cancer feels really close to me all the time, I don't get bothered by small things much. I appreciate that part of it. I am afraid of dying young, though. I was in a fire right before my dad died. I had third-degree burns and learned (pretty quickly, let's not be dramatic) to walk again. It's weird that you have to do that. You're sure you know how but after a whole month lying completely flat in a bed watching Tyra on morphine your body just says no. That's the first time I felt out of control of my body, and I haven't really felt we were on the same team since.

I just want answers. I just want to know what the right things to do with my body and with my time. Soon, I'll be going to the Familial Cancer Center, in Australia. They will help me understand my risks more clearly with new technology. They want to try and find some of my brothers DNA and test every single gene they can.

A promotional pic from my comedy show

I drink. I shouldn't but how do you choose between living hard and fast for your almost guaranteed short years, or living clean and hoping it pays off? I yo-yo pretty hard on this. I eat organic and I drink turmeric bullshit, but then I wash it down with whiskey. I'm always fucking scared. Every lump, every weird stomach pain, every period is terrifying, and they say to avoid stress. So you don't get it tested. They say catch it and kill it so you obsess until you get it tested. They say you have a head start so your body is a temple and you go to yoga and they say you'll probably die young so you party and you don't sleep.

Maybe everyone should live like me. Yoga in the morning, whiskey in the evening. Never miss a sunset in case it's your last. Make sure you have good sex with that small-time celebrity who has been hitting on you for a while. Make the most of it. Or don't. It's yours to choose.

I started doing comedy because it was the scariest thing I could think of. Now it's my fucking job. Doing things that are scary is important for me because if I face cancer one day, I'm not going into that fight without solid training. So I travel the world and I spend all my money on turmeric lattes, whiskey, and bullshit. I get up on stage and sing songs and tell stories like this one and I laugh at them. You have to laugh at them. My brother couldn't do up his fly because the chemo made his fingers so sensitive, so sometimes his dick came out in public. Incredibly frustrating but also...so funny. Because it has to be.

Life is too short to take seriously. And too short to waste. It can be both at the same time. I am kind and I am brave and I am terrified but I am very easygoing and insufferably positive. It's just life.

Here's to a long life. Or at least a good solid catch and kill battle before the end.

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