On Being Cancer – To Be or Not To Be

being cancer?

being cancer?

I have had a number of discussions lately contending the title of this blog – Being Cancer.  Some readers contended it, so did some family. The core of the argument is that cancer should not be allowed to define a life.  So I thought that it might be a good idea to go back and reexamine the words that I chose to portray the idea behind my blog.

In my very first post I spelled it out: Now before my diagnosis I thought of myself as a husband, a father, a nurse.  But since the profundity of my cancer diagnosis all that has become somehow secondary to the thought “I have cancer”   I am cancer.  So “being cancer” became the central preoccupation of my life.  It has pervaded everything, it has affected nearly every facet of my life – mentally, physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually.  It is a constant struggle, a tug-of-war between hope and desolation.  And now nearly five years from any sign of active disease this old theme – being cancer -still haunts.  I suspect that for many persons with cancer, and perhaps even for those caring for persons with cancer, this theme of “being cancer” resonates loudly.

Should cancer be allowed to define a life? or, to put it more personally, should you allow cancer to define your life?  Certainly we all have a choice.  How much will my life be affected (transformed) by my diagnosis?  If my experience is like many of your, cancer came like a locomotive, like a hurricane.  It rolled in and over everything.  It disoriented our lives.  It scattered our dreams.  In those first weeks our lives lay in ruins.  How much will our life be transformed by cancer?  We have a choice but how much of one?

In certain inexorable ways our range of choices becomes more limited, or, at least, more focused.  We are now on a different trajectory than we were before diagnosis.  We may or may not make it to the same goals, the same dreams.  But the paths we follow must be different.

“Being cancer”  It may be just a semantic issue.  But then there is that real question of attitude.  Once we reel from that first great cancer punch, how long will it take us to get back up?  How effectively and with what degree of conviction do we fight back?  Attitude can and does make a real difference.  And yet we do not want to suggest the cancer victim bears the primary responsibility for whether he or she wins the battle or not.  As an oncology nurse I have seen scores of strong, committed, courageous men and women lose the war not matter how fiercely they fought the battles.

“Being cancer”  To approach the semantic issue from another angle, cancer is not like an infectious disease.  Being infected means being attacked by an-other, by some organism foreign to ourselves.  Bacteria, viruses, fungi are the enemy from without.  In cancer the enemy is from within.  The enemy is ourselves, our distorted selves at a molecular level.  Our cancer cells are our own cells gone mad – unrestrained, uncontrolled, and dysfunctional.

“Being cancer”  No, my cancer does not define me, does not control me.  And yet, especially in the beginning, it did pervade my life.  It set me on a detour. It took me long way off course and it took me a long way to find my way back.  In fact, in some ways, I was lost before.  And now, since cancer, maybe because of cancer, I am found.

The subtitle of the blog refers to being “transformed by cancer”.  Transformation suggests the positive aspects of illness.  Having cancer, having become cancer has guided our lives down previously unseen, unappreciated byways.  Was cancer a blessing then?  Well, maybe, but one I would rather not have had.  I might have taken my chances in finding the right path.

“Being cancer”  No, I am not my cancer and my cancer is not me.  But it left a scar, a scar that will not go away.  Hopefully I am better for it.


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.


On Being Cancer – To Be or Not To Be — 6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the link to the post. It is interesting to read your deinition and reasoning for the title of your blog. As a Shakespeare buff too, I liked the title “to be or not to be”; although of course in the play it refers to living or dying by your own hand (as in suicide). In some ways this meaning fits your own definition of the cancer patients cells turning against themselves (thereby potentially killing ourselves – even if reluctantly).

    So do you conclude that the blog title stays as it is? Just asking!

    I have not changed my view – I am still not “being cancer”. LOL!

  2. Dear one – I understand completely…and remember, this is YOUR blog and you may call it whatever you wish. No one else really ‘gets’ what we are goign through – even other people who have been diagnosed with cancer….I think about my cancer every single day…and always will…gentle hugs from Holly.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts, Holly and Author. This gave me a chance to elaborate on the theme. I was not trying to change anyone’s position. My own is probably best stated in the last paragraph of the post – “I am not my cancer and my cancer is not me”. Philosophies aside, the other reason for my blog title is that I was looking for a compelling, short, easily-remembered, phrase containing the word ‘cancer”. And if that title provoked some dialogue, all the better. Dennis

  4. My cancer does not define me. I live with it. I am not a survivor or a battler or a sufferer. I am merely a person living with cancer.

    When I first found your blog I was intrigued by the title – Being Cancer – was it a blog about being with cancer, being part of cancer, or just being cancer? Name it what you will, I like it.

  5. Thanks Dennis for this link explaining your title. I understand that you KNOW cancer, you have FELT cancer, but I just don’t want you to BE cancer. YOU have SURVIVED cancer. Cancer is ugly and random and a thief and a murderer. These things you are NOT!! You are a wonderful human being, a devoted husband, father, son, brother and doting grandfather!You are a nurse who has helped scores of people fight cancer,regardless of their outcome. None of these titles are CANCER.
    You are BEATING cancer!
    Just my two cents! Love ya!!

  6. I wondered about this myself when I first came upon your site. Being genetically predisposed makes me feel like “being cancer” was preordained for me in some odd way. I used to hate to hear “so and so is dying with cancer”….nay nay; we live with cancer it is part of us…would I run from it if I could…most surely. I live with it every day of my life. It is in my genes; and there is no way for me to not “be” with it for the rest of my life. Which I am fighting to be a very long, long life at that. Thank you for your site. You are now linked to mine on my blogroll.
    Thanks Dennis!

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