The Cancer Fight Myth

Concord Waterfall 12When I think of a fight, I think of the battles in the Middle Ages with swinging swords and horse riders, metal armor and long marches into unknown territory, face to face combat. I think of the Matrix like bullet dodging and wall scaling. I think of cage fighting, boxing, wrestling. I think of car chases and shootouts, I think of frantic gun re-loading and fist fights in western saloons. I think of broken chairs and broken noses. I think of screams and dishes flying through the air, shattering against walls. I think of hair pulling, punching, kicking, biting, scratching and tearing. I think of dripping blood, bruises, cuts and bullet wounds. I feel the hearts racing, eyes locked in a stare, flexed muscles, shallow and fast breathing. I smell the adrenaline in the air.

Now let me tell you what cancer “fight” is.

When I got the bad news that I have a second cancer in less than a year, I felt my legs carry me out of the doctor’s office back on to the street. I was in Manhattan and there were people everywhere. Young, old, tall, short, skinny, fat, all rushing back and forth, like fish zipping around in the stream. I stood there for a minute, wanting to step into that tide of bodies and randomly grab someone by the arm and say ‘Hey, I have cancer’ or ‘Hey, I may die’ or ‘Hey, my life is fucked, I got another cancer’ and watch their reactions. I imagined their mouth would drop a little as they would try to pull away from my grasp. I imagined they would think I was crazy and just want to get away from me. So I just stood there, under the awning of the hospital.

Somehow I started moving again and made it to the train station and back home, all the while my brain shifting between denial and a complete and utter panic. The only fight like activity were probably the molecules in my head trying to prevent me from screaming at the top of my lungs “NO!!!!!”.

The next phase of the so-called cancer fight is the treatment itself. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation is usually the yellow brick road for most people. I was lucky to bypass the radiation. However, first came the surgery. I went in, I went under and I was wheeled out. Minus two body parts – my breasts. I laid in the PACU, trying to breathe as little as possible because every fill of my lungs felt like there were little midgets in my chest stabbing me with knives. I rolled my eyeballs around helplessly trying to catch an eye of a rushing nurse. My body felt like it was attached to the bed with a thousand heavy chains. I kept drifting in and out of sleep every five minutes in sync with the blood pressure machine regularly squeezing my arm. Finally I caught the nurse’s attention and begged her for something for the pain. She suggested Tylenol. Now, here was a moment where a fight might have happened if I was able bodied. I wanted to slap her, strangle her, knock her stupid head off her shoulders, kick her in the ass. TYLENOL??? Are you fucking kidding me? I was just carved out like a pumpkin before Halloween and you offer me Tylenol? But instead, all I could do was fill my eyes with tears and sobbingly mutter something about Tylenol never working for me. The nurse shrugged and said she already pushed a large dose of it in the IV. If I could I would have killed her. I would have swung my sword high and cut her head off with a guttural scream of victory in front of my assembled army – assuming I was a general in some 15th century battle. But all I did was lay there trying to breathe as little as possible.

The “fight” or recovery at home consisted of laying in bed and counting the hours till the next time I can knock myself out with the oh-so-wonderful Percocet. This was also the time when people would start emailing me and telling me how I can fight this and how brave and strong I was. Considering the fact that I couldn’t even hold my dog on a leash or unscrew a lid off a marinara sauce bottle I hated them all for saying that. I was not strong, I wasn’t brave and I WASN’T FIGHTING. I was laying in bed, trying not to pull on the drainage tubes that came out of my sides, wondering what’s going on under the bandages that circled my upper torso like an off-white snake. I wasn’t fighting when the doctor finally pulled the tubes out either, I just sat half naked on a chair in a freezing office trying to ignore the searing pain as the tubes slid from the molten lava core of my body.

Next came chemo. Now let me tell you about this “fight”. The first time I found myself in the ‘chemo room’ I tried to have an open mind and an upbeat attitude. Then I saw the row of lazy-boy like armchairs, almost all of them occupied by someone who looked dead already. Their wispy white hairs covered their heads, their mouths were slightly ajar and looked toothless and their frail bodies were wrapped in several hospital blankets. They were mostly asleep. I stopped in my tracks. I didn’t belong there! Every cell in my body bucked at the prospect of being tethered to the same poisonous IV tree. But nonetheless, putting up no fight what-so-ever, I let myself be ushered into one of the chairs and get my body pumped full of poison. Times six over the next four months.

Gradually I felt worse and worse and by the time I reached my last chemo, I gritted my teeth at a sight of pink ribbons, cancer marathon T-shirts or upbeat “survivor” stories in the magazines. I hated the words “fight” and “survivor”. I didn’t want to be a survivor. I wanted to be me just the way I was before all this happened. I loathed slogans like “run for the cause”, “save the tatas”, or “fight like a girl”. I wasn’t FIGHTING. I was teetering on the edge of an abyss, mental and physical. I was barely holding on. The only fight happening in my body was in my head where I tried to find reasons for why I shouldn’t just kill myself.

6 Comments

  1. Oh my. If I was there I would have slapped that nurse for you. May I ask how are you feeling now?

  2. I do feel better now physically, thank you!! But I do have a bunch of scans and tests lined up soon…just crossing my fingers they are clear.

  3. I enjoyed this a great lot, though your last line caught me off guard. I also enjoyed your post about cancer coping magazines, which I didn’t even know existed until I came across your blog. I’ll continue to explore your writing.

    • Thank you Josh. The last line reflected how I felt during the worst of the next to last chemo. I had really bad side effects and I knew I still had to do one more chemo, I was alone and had to do everything by myself and felt completely overwhelmed by the simpliest life tasks. I feel better now. 🙂

      • I can’t imagine doing that alone. Wow! You are amazing.

      • Thank you. I guess you never know what you can do until doing it is the only thing left. 🙂

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