Warning: everything I say here applies to me alone. If you find any concepts of interest and try them for yourself, great. If not, no problem. Your mileage may vary.
This time around with cancer, I notice a new fad among patients, nurses and people who support us: the slogan "cancer sucks!" Google the term and you find a non-profit, a website devoted to Cancer Sucks coffee mugs, and another for clothing with the logo. Amazon features books with "cancer sucks" in the title or subtitle - plenty of humor as well as heart-wrenching memoir.
If this slogan appeals to you, that's fine with me. It just doesn't ring true to me, and I find I don't know what to say when somebody says it to me.
Nobody wants to be a cancer patient. I don't. Nobody wants to hear this diagnosis - I didn't. Nobody would choose the treatments, the side effects, and the barefaced look into one's mortality.
I always hated medical procedures and hospitals; just getting induced for my first childbirth made me cry. I hated the machines, tubes, beeps, medical professionals, implements, drugs - the whole apparatus of modern medicine. But I didn't want a stillborn son so I went ahead with the induction and gave birth to a healthy child.
The first time I had cancer, my unconscious slogan was: Cancer doesn't matter. I was determined to get through it and never think about it again. I felt that getting cancer was just a big mistake all around, and I was going to keep going as if it had never happened. Ok I stopped dyeing my hair and gained weight, so I looked different. But damned if I was going to write about cancer, or think about it if I could help it. I changed my life in one way - I went to graduate school and got a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing - as well as a whole community of writers who remain my inspiration and support.
Now that I've got a diagnosis that implies a chronic illness for which I will always be in treatment, I must find a way to live with my reality. If cancer sucks, then every day of the rest of my life is going to suck. That just doesn't work for me. I have to go with what is truly here in this moment.
Today I took the bus to San Francisco for infusion three of my seventh month of chemo; along the way I admired the choppy waves on the bay. The nurse at the Breast Center got me through the visit fast; my blood counts look good. Upstairs in the chemo lounge I got to sit next to one of my buddies, a fellow metastatic patient even younger than I am, who is thinking about writing a children's book. Then my friend Lisa arrived with her "entourage", some lovely ladies from New Mexico - Lisa drives me home from chemo most weeks. We went to King of Falafel on Divisadero Street and feasted, then had an easy drive home.
Now I'm in my bed under the new hot pink duvet, looking out the window at the green trees in our garden. My husband, who works from home, spent an hour at my desk facing the garden, working on his laptop; we had some companionable time together. Pretty soon I'll go outside for some sunshine; later a friend from my college is bringing dinner. My children will come home, we'll visit, I'll help get them ready for bed.
OK I know that talking about the gifts of this illness might make many cancer patients resentful or bitter or disgusted. That's fair. I can understand that reaction. Who wants to hear a smarmy bumper sticker slogan when you're feeling scared and sick? So if that's you, don't read this. But if you are willing to hear about my experience of cancer, then here goes:
However sad, scary, frustrating and horrible this journey has been, it has also brought me so much love and connection with others. I have had uncountable experiences of love, kindness and good will since I was diagnosed. I allow myself to feel miserable, don't worry. I express myself pretty strongly, for negative and for positive. AND I find that continuing to turn to what is good about this moment makes me feel really really happy. I'm sorry I had to get this sick in order to learn how to shut off the negative side of my brain, but I did.
Today I spend more time being happy than I did when I was cancer-free. Nothing else about my life has changed since then - I have the same husband, financial situation, family, house and life that I had before. And that husband, children, house, family and life were then and remain great blessings; I was unhappy because of the state of world politics, the environment, and my writing career. What's different today: I am forced to work on my inner life, forced to accept reality and find happiness in what is, because otherwise I would just face misery for the rest of my days.
For me, every day is a gift. So while it might be true for you that cancer sucks, I am just not going to accept that idea. I am glad to be here and I am glad you're here reading this. A bird is singing outside my window and a breeze blows the curtains, which are the same new green as the tree leaves. What more do I have than this moment?