I’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?