Cancer Does Not Have Me!
I made up my mind early on to never say “I have cancer”, but rather “ I received a cancer diagnosis”. I wanted to have my mind and body hear that I was not going to let myself be entangled in the web of this, but instead I was going to raft down treacherous waters of treatment with a paddle furiously sweeping myself through. I was going to go into treatments imagining every cancer cell disintegrating. In that keenly present time I had of possibly living or possibly dying, I had to decide what I wanted. Everything in life is a bargain, and I decided my bargain was for more time on this earth, with the only life I ever knew.
The Tale of Three Ghosts
I use imagery and story to sort through my feelings and circumstances in many occasions in my life and this time was no different. I became what I named “The Tale of the Three Ghosts”. After surgery, (which involved a radical hysterectomy, removal of many cancer-studded lymph nodes, and removal of something I never even knew I had — my omentum), I was and felt literally hollowed out.
I no longer had a core, and I felt like a ghost with some outside structure, but empty inside. I was also a physical ghost of being so uncomfortable at times as I was recovering that I couldn’t sit still, but wandered restlessly around the house. And I felt like a spiritual ghost suspended between the possibility of dying and the possibility of living.
Dignity Is My Superhero
As I moved amongst the state of being “three ghosts”, I also wrestled with the sentiment that cancer is a “battle”, the “Fuck Cancer” t-shirts and tchotchkes, the occasional societal expectation that I was now in some sort of superhero mode.
I pondered this for a few days, to see how I could imagine myself in a way that resonated with me. So I came up with my own superhero called Dignity. Dignity was going to be how I navigated through treatment, how I showed up, and how I always would want to be treated by others. Not as a pathetic creature who got walloped with a sad health crisis, but as a dignified person with a soul and mindset that was very much alive.
The Badly Behaved Children
I respect others’ way of handling their own cancer diagnosis situations, but I needed to have a mindset that resonated with me. I was in a genetic counseling session one afternoon, so that it could be discovered whether I had the BRCA genes and other factors that could determine the best treatment. I was working through nagging feelings that in order for me to have a successful treatment, medical interventions were part of it but the other part was how I was regarding my body and the disease that had grown within me.
It was a weird feeling to know that the body that protected me, that made me breathe, think, walk, eat, and be a woman was also a body that was on a course of self-destruction. Parts of my body, that I had held all of my life inside of me, had put me on a collision course with death.
Of course, I desperately wanted every cancer cell to be gone and to never come back, but all of those cancerous cells used to be good cells, helpful cells that gave me life. So I came up with a story for myself that helped me feel more integrated, less oppositional to my own body.
I decided to think of my cancer cells as badly behaved children, who needed discipline and a plan to better behave, and that plan was decided to be that they would all have to go somewhere else than in my body. I made a memorial on a deserted beach to my now-removed reproductive organs with an assembly of dried seaweed pieces, to thank them for what they had given me in the past before they went awry and could no longer help me anymore and stay with me.
Others had imagery of me as well, as I came to find out one afternoon after a chemotherapy treatment. I was thirsty but not thirsty, and decided to get a Slurpee, which I hadn’t had in years. I was recently balded, and was still getting used to this new look. Getting out of my car in a busy parking lot, I was confused to see and hear a disheveled man pacing outside of the 7–11 and shouting. He didn’t sound aggressive, but actually delighted. As I walked closer, I realized he was pointing at me and exclaiming loudly “The oracle is here, my monk!” “The oracle is here !”
I was baffled and caught totally off-guard, and then realized with my having no hair and walking in flowing, comfortable clothes he imagined me being a mystical character. Still at a safe distance, but knowing he had harmless intentions with his delusion, I broke the news to him. “Listen, I’m not an oracle . I’m sorry. I’m a regular person. I don’t have hair because I’m undergoing chemotherapy.”
Hearing this, he stopped for a moment, considered what I said as I walked into the store. His face lifted up and he wailed into the crowded parking lot “The Messiah is going through chemotherapy! The Messiah did this for us!” I really wanted to crawl under a rock at that point, especially realizing that the customers may be bitterly disappointed that a messiah drinks Slurpies, and she just added a bag of BBQ chips to her purchase.
The Intentions and a Clear CT Scan
Working through body and mind integration was in other ways as well. My wife, son and I gathered almost every night for 6 months (only missing two nights that whole time), and sat in a circle in our living room exclaiming our shared intention that the treatments would work, that there would be no cancer left, and that we would enjoy a long, happy life together ahead of us.
And as I slid through my CT scan on May 27th after chemotherapy was finished, I knew it would be clear and our intentions would be answered with a positive outcome.