I used to be one of those people who picked fights with cancer. I would disconnect cancer from the people it hit by imagining it was a separate entity, and I cursed it as an invader.
For instance, I was so angry when my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer in her early 60s. I remember her delicate scalp with just a few hairs left to decorate her head. I wanted to go to battle (as if my grandmother, with all her life experience and wisdom, needed me to fight it for her). I wanted to literally beat up cancer, without realizing I would have been beating up my grandmother in the process. It was hard for me to accept that her body was falling apart, and that once her body could no longer function, she would no longer exist.
But watching her made me think that if cancer was to ever mess with someone like me, it would be sorry.
Then I was diagnosed with cancer and my perspective suddenly shifted.
When I went through my chemo treatments, I remember looking in the mirror and grabbing chunks of hair from my scalp as they fell on the floor. I thought of my grandma instantly, and about what I had said to myself then — that cancer would be sorry if it ever messed with me. But something felt different when I looked into that mirror. It didn’t make any sense that after hating cancer for so long, I wasn’t able to curse at it anymore. Instead, I felt sad. I did not want to be at ‘war’ with my cancer. I no longer felt like it was a fight or battle. I felt that cancer was part of me. And, having such a strong family history of cancers, in addition to being a carrier of a mutated gene, has made this thinking even stronger in me.
Because I can’t separate cancer from me, I am unable to use military metaphors — identify myself as a ‘warrior’ or put on my ‘pink boxing gloves’ for example. Ultimately, I’d be punching myself — and in a way I already have been punching myself with chemotherapy, radiation, and currently with the Tamoxifen. Obviously, I am trying to kill all the cancer with those things, but in the process of doing so I am also physically and emotionally hurting myself. I don’t want to add more punches.
I realize that, in the end, I am really fighting with myself when I think of cancer as an attacker. These are my cells. They are part of who I am. My body has an expiration date whether I want to accept it or not. And dammit, it’s still hard to accept this! My body cannot be replaced —at times I had wished it could be. I feel I have no control over what it does anymore. This is how it behaves. It hurts itself.
Now this does not mean I don’t hate cancer, or that I would stop treating it. It means I need to accept the things I cannot change to allow myself some level of peace. I’ve learned that I have less control over my life than I thought I did. That’s what makes this situation so difficult. I must learn to go with the flow.
Now, when I think back to when my grandma was ill, it is easier for me to see that it was her time to go. Cancer wasn’t a pre-meditated attack by an intruder. She had no control over what her body was going through. Same applies to the rest of us who desperately look for answers as to “why?” or “why now?” – in our 20’s, in our 30’s, in our 40’s, and so on.
There may be no answer. Accept to know that we are all fragile. Fighting or not, we get hurt. We need to each figure out the best strategy for enduring the punches.
“Where is my Mind” from the movie “Fight Club”