Sometimes life seems surreal. It seems that when reality is intense and authentic, when life is really in my face, the more it is like a crazy story, a science fiction plot unfolding in front of me.

I have a friend, Ellen Harris-Braun, who is smart, loving, well loved, talented and cancer riddled. She is (in no particular order) a researcher, program developer, mother, wife, midwife, friend, daughter, community member, homemaker, grad student, wild-grape jelly maker…

Once upon a time, Ellen was a Science Fiction editor. She worked for Del Rey Books and Random House. She edited for various science-fiction authors including Nebula Prize winners like Nicola Griffith. Today, Ellen’s life is sci-fi.

Characteristics of Science Fiction (according to Wikipedia) are:

  1. Time setting in the future, or, an alternate time setting
  2. Spacial setting in outer space or an alternative world (maybe subterranean)
  3. Characters that are not merely human, possibly mutant, android, robot
  4. Futuristic or plausible technology (aka Gadgets)
  5. New, different or made up scientific principles
  6. New or different social or/or political systems
  7. Characters often have paranormal abilities
  8. Sometimes there are other universes, dimensions, timelines and even communication between them


Like life, good fiction uses several (but not every) available possibility. Many of the characteristics of Sci-fi are now playing in Ellen’s life.

  1. Almost three years into a diagnosis of metastatic Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Ellen is living in a time that wasn’t supposed to be.
  2. Both her body and her house are filled with gadgets -from laptops and iPhones, to the fancy silicon port that deposits medication directly into her brain.
  3. With a silicon brain port, thickly padded hands (to protect from neuropathic pain from chemo) and a shuffling gait, Ellen is a mutation of her former graceful, powerful physique.
  4. In the Harris-Braun household, social and gender norms are fluid, with the pronouns ‘she’ ‘he’ and ‘they’ all being used for individuals.

In my own experience of living with Ellen’s illness, I find myself thinking of sci-fi daily. On the one hand, I am preparing for Ellen to die soon (way too soon). Emotionally, socially and logistically, there are preparations to make. On the other hand, she might live a long and healthy life: stranger things have happened in real life, not just fairy tales.

Daily, I am acutely aware of these dual paths leading forward. I step forward towards near death/long life, working to create preparations in two realities that cannot exist together. Every day, I imagine receiving the call that she is no longer with us, and every day I imagine Ellen happy, healthy and one hundred years old, laughing under a Hawaiian waterfall.

Sometimes, it seems that when life is most real, it is most surreal. The picture both intensely focused and yet blurred with a beautiful bokeh, as the next scene begins. That is how it feels now. In both life and fiction, I always hope that the author will challenge me but also be kind, that the next chapter will reveal a lovely surprise, and that the end will never come too soon.

May all babies be born into loving hands

PS: This essay was posted with Ellen’s knowledge and permission. You can follow Ellen’s journey at her blog, World of the Sick/World of the Well: breast cancer…again?