Wednesday, May 19, 2021
From the moment you hear the word cancer spoken in your direction – from your new best friend, an oncologist with whom you've had zero previous interaction, you are transported to a new reality. A reality that a few of those moments before, was nowhere on your radar. Whatever innocence, expectation of normalcy and/or predictability you anticipated experiencing in your life, is now completely gone. Not only are you not in Kansas anymore, you are nowhere to be found, emotionally. All your hopes, dreams and presumptions about your life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are back-burnered by your life-changing diagnosis. A diagnosis which will require some kind of treatment, side effects notwithstanding, which will likely dampen your enthusiasm for living and affect all your decisions. Figuratively speaking, there's a new sheriff in town and if you're not compliant and attentive to your doctor's orders, you'll become a prisoner to your disease.
Even if you are compliant, a cancer diagnosis, however curable, is the kind of news that sticks with you no matter how long into your remission you are or how encouraging your diagnostic scans appear to be. Since I've not experienced being cancer-free – after having received an initial diagnosis/prognosis, I can't imagine the relief and rebirth one might feel after learning their cancer has been beaten into submission. It's really too much to even contemplate when you've been given a sort of death sentence. Practically speaking, how does one go from being constantly under threat of a worsening outcome to one which is completely free from the emotional and physical tentacles of a cancer diagnosis?
You can't really unwring the bill, to coin a phrase. Moreover, hearing "You have cancer" sticks with you like Gorilla Glue. It's hard to even imagine ever hearing anything worse. Then one day, hearing your oncologist say "no sign of cancer" to you. To quote my late mother: "It's too much for anybody's nerves." And it's almost too much to ever consider. Your reality is that you have a very serious medical condition/disease, and once again, to quote my late mother, "No one gets out of this life alive." Thinking, even contemplating a miracle cure is a tease most unhelpful, to invoke the syntax of Hercule Poirot. Somehow one must learn to live with their disease or else you'll die having been unable to lock it away in your vault, so to speak. Somehow, having cancer can't be the predominant consideration in your life. Yet, when every waking moment is nearly consumed by your less-than-ideal circumstances, it's an emotional battle, most royal. If you win your share of skirmishes, you'll likely be rewarded with more life to live. However, nothing is guaranteed, except you know what: "death and taxes."
"Any way you slice it, it's still ham," as my father used to say. Meaning that cancer is a serious business and no amount of joking or obfuscation is going to change that fact. Nevertheless, if one doesn't try and gives in to the disease psychologically, the internal damage may be compounded. Not that I've denied my diagnosis or ever taken it lightly, but I have tried to embrace it and become friends with it; not wanting to be controlled by it anymore than I already am. Given that I'll likely never be free of my cancer, either I learn to live with it or die trying. And I'd rather go down fighting than go down quietly. My situation has not changed or gotten worse. Still my disease is a major part of me and integrating into my program is the best way I know to try and make a molehill out of a mountain. I have been there and have done that. Hopefully, I'm not done being there.