Eternal Stormclouds of a Conscious Mind

erase memoriesI’ve been thinking about the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It’s about a couple that has a painful breakup, and each goes through a procedure to erase their memories of each other, slowly forgetting the person they used to love.  

I’ve wondered if I would consider undergoing the same procedure those characters went through, if such an option were ever available to me. If I were able to select the specific memories I want erased from my brain, then I would have to say yes, I would consider it.

But, I’ve also wondered, would my cancer experience be one of those memories I would want to erase? While contemplating the idea, I thought of the positives and the negatives.

Removing the memory of my cancer experience from my mind would allow me to live in a fantasy. And what a fantasy that would be!

My past five years — with my memories of cancer erased— would have been completely different. I would have the same level of awareness about my mortality that I had before being diagnosed — because there would be no reason to even think about cancer hitting me at the age of 32. (No one else in my family had been diagnosed so young.) I wouldn’t be making every decision with my health in mind. I probably would have built a family by now and taken more risks, like moving out of NYC. I would have allowed myself to hold on to my innocence and my denial a little longer. And friends and family would be THRILLED because they never want to talk about cancer anyway.

But would I really be better off?

I have conflicting thoughts about removing this specific memory, because since my diagnosis there is something I want to try to hold onto. And that something is awareness, even though it is a burden. I am not exclusively referring to the awareness of cancer. In this case, awareness covers a much bigger part of reality.

To a degree, I don’t want to make myself innocent again, because it puts me in a place where I can get hurt. I want to keep myself aware of pain, so I can be ready. Maybe it will hurt less when it comes.

I remembered how I felt when I was diagnosed. I felt like I jumped off a cliff with no parachute to save my life. Reality never looked rawer. I felt fooled. I don’t want to experience that same sensation if I were to face cancer again.

As much as I hate being a cancer patient, I don’t want to lose that level of awareness that this pain can happen. I don’t want to be naïve again. Now, I no longer look the other way because of fear. I force myself to know the facts and the potential issues related to my health so there are fewer surprises. Now I expose myself to as much information as I can. Anything I learn, as painful as it may be, would only help me make educated decisions about my health and about my life.

Also, the fact that cancer is real and personal to me has allowed me to feel a different kind of compassion that I was not prepared to feel before. I am able to connect with other patients who have been emotionally and physically affected by this disease in a more profound way. We all come from a familiar place which is why the support we give to one another is so genuine. It feels as if I have all these friends even though I haven’t met most of them in person. I don’t feel alone. I can freely be vulnerable with these friends and I am not afraid or ashamed to let my emotions show. I appreciate this connection that my memory of my cancer has created for me.

And as a bonus, I have also become more aware of who my true friends (and family) are.

It sucks that I had to experience cancer at such a young age, because part of that innocence and freedom I once had died too quickly for me. I would have liked to hold on to that a little longer. But cancer happened and I could never change that by simply removing the memory.


If you had the choice to erase a memory (or memories), which one would it be and why?

About thesmallc

I'm Rebeca. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. But there's more to my story: I am an animal lover. I love to cook. I have a wonderful fiancé who doesn't mind walking my rocky path with me. We currently live in New York. ---------------------------------------- “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
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22 Responses to Eternal Stormclouds of a Conscious Mind

  1. Interesting question. If it were me and I had that option, I wouldn’t choose it. I feel like I’d be left with the collateral damage — physical and otherwise — without any of the insight, and the insight seems the point, if there is one.

    • thesmallc says:

      Eileen, I totally get it. I think it makes sense that most people would want to keep their memory of having gone through cancer, especially after all the collateral damage. Thank you for reading and commenting on this post. xx

    • The Accidental Amazon says:

      That was one of my first thoughts, too. Also, it would have to mean I’d leave my fantastic blog sisters behind, and that would never do. Cool post!

  2. scottx5 says:

    Think I’d keep all my memories. The medical mess is something I can’t resolve, no matter how many solutions I’ve tried it remains something un-fixed. And is it so bad to be turned back into your imperfect self? To be vulnerable and unable to strut around being “right” and all that other illusory confidence only separates us from each other. There’s something precious in being made to chose options that others would’t consider.
    Living a life where each thing seems more consequential seems to distance me from some people. Is that a bad thing?

    • thesmallc says:

      Hi Scott! I am sorry you feel so powerless. Sometimes I wish our level of control wasn’t so limited. But I hope you’ve been feeling well and getting good reports. Thank you for the wise words. You’ve given me something to think about.

      • scottx5 says:

        Thanks Rebecca, growing up with a number of people around me very hard of hearing I think I developed an over-active sense of what being listened to “feels” like. I think our bodies sense what “feels like care” and what is actually just practiced gesture as a kind of intelligence. Not sure if the feeling with my doctors is one of being “powerless” or one of being out of range of their hearing.
        Found a website on Compassionate Listening and when my chemo-brain can remember where I put the link will let you know.
        Seems to me that you have replaced innocence with an awareness that others need attention that you have to either give or hold to yourself. So maybe innocence was a way of giving yourself to loving others that you haven’t lost? Does that make sense?

  3. Alan says:

    What a thoughtful post. May I repost? My gut reaction as to whether or not I’d want to “erase” my experience…no way! It is a HUGE part of who I am today. In so many ways, the past 4+ years since diagnosis have served to shape the person I am today. There is no way I’d be the same person today if I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer.

    • thesmallc says:

      Hi Alan! I am humbled by your offer. Please feel free to repost. I know what you mean about being the person we are today, but I even have mixed feelings about that too. I am not sure I am too happy about who I am today because of cancer (at least some aspects of it). It’s like committing to raising a child I didn’t want to have but having to put on my ‘big girl pants’ to deal with it (OK, maybe this is a bad comparison).

      Thank you for your support.

  4. It’s such a great question Rebecca. I’ve often thought I’d like to be able to erase traumatic memories – funnily enough not memories of cancer – but memories of the pain of grief when my mother died

    • thesmallc says:

      Marie, you reminded me of my mami (grandma) and the never-ending grief I feel. It’s quite painful at times but this is another memory I wouldn’t mind keeping because that pain is a reflection of the love I feel for her. There are other memories I wouldn’t mind erasing though and those deserve their own post (or maybe not).

      I just listened to the song “Beside You” by Simply Red. I imagine my mami singing this song to me and it brings peace to my heart. I hope you have some of those moments too. xoxo

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  7. I had to read then re-read this after thinking a few days. Upon reflection I realize I’ve often wished out loud to others about some bad experience or another (wish I’d never taken that job,did that project, whatever). Stupidly I’ve expressed these regrets to those I’ve met because I took that job, did that project, etc., so, no, all happened as it should have, regardless of my regrets (I’m talking about things other than cancer and applying lessons learned in life to the cancer experience here.) In spite of my curmudgeon-y outlook and loathing of platitudes like looking for silver linings or everything happens for a reason–I do, begrudgingly, admit that things are exactly as they should be. No I don’t believe in some universe is orchestrating it all–I have no such belief system. I merely realize that this is what happened to me, this is where I am, and there is no point in shoulda coulda woulda.
    Thanks for provocative read.

    • thesmallc says:

      I’ve been thinking about this idea for a while, and of course, they were showing the movie the other day so I was inspired to write about it. Funny, when I was a lot younger, I remember wanting to erase all my bad memories. The idea was appealing to me. I still would erase a few, to be honest, but cancer is not one of them. I have sort of taken the same approach as you when it comes to realizing things are exactly as they should be, for better or worse. But I have my moments of escaping to my fantasies in order to recreate my world. Generally, I don’t have many regrets, but I do have trouble accepting things that are forced on me or that I didn’t have a choice in.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. xx

  8. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    I have not seen that movie. Your question is interesting. For me, the answer is clear. I would erase the experience of cancer in a heartbeat. I loathe what it’s done to me and my family. Since cancer did happen, however, I would not want to erase my memories of it. Does this makes sense? Big difference as I see it. As for other bad memories I’ve had in my life, I’d have to give that more thought… Thanks for posing this question.

    • thesmallc says:

      Nancy, the movie has an interesting concept and one that’s appealing to me because I don’t like all of my memories. I completely understand what you mean about erasing the cancer experience. I feel the same way. But like Eileen said (above), now that cancer happened, I might as well keep the awareness/understating that came from it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. xx

  9. bethgainer says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    This is such a thought-provoking post. I know exactly what you mean by you not wanting to feel innocence shattered again. That’s the way I feel. I’m always trying to use my memories as a shield against going from naivete to knowledge of mortality that may come sooner than I’d like. I think, though, that innocence is shattered by a cancer diagnosis no matter what the age of the patient. I was also diagnosed relatively young, and I was fit and “healthy” prior to diagnosis. Being diagnosed felt like a one-way ticket to hell. Yet, despite this, I don’t think I’d erase any of my memories because they have made me who I am today.

    Wonderful post.

    • thesmallc says:

      Beth, you’re right, innocence is shattered by a cancer diagnosis no matter the age of the patient. Getting a mortality notice just sucks. Being aware adds a level of burden to one’s life, and as crazy as it sounds, not having that awareness is more ‘damaging’ to some extent. I did not know this before my diagnosis but now I do. Like you I was fit and healthy before my dx. cancer is so random. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. xx

  10. Ninasusan says:

    I’m just not sure! I wouldn’t be the person today without every experience!

    • thesmallc says:

      That is correct. If you like who you are today that’s all that matters. I am not completely happy with who I am today because of the circumstances I’ve been forced to deal with. No control over that but I’ve often wondered if by erasing some of my memories, my life would feel less heavy.

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