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.