Cancer Confession #437*

(Pref­ace to the pref­ace: * Okay so the #437 is rather arbi­trary. Blogs are a very con­fes­sional for­mat and I come from a long line of con­fes­sional per­son­ages so there are prob­a­bly at least 436 other con­fes­sions con­tained in the his­tory of this blog.)

(Pref­ace: Two equally impor­tant facts of can­cer: 1) There is no bright side to can­cer and 2) You should never get bogged down in fact #1, let it seep into your sense of iden­tity or inter­fere with your living.)

Every once in a while I feel that, for posterity’s sake, I should purge myself of the secrets that come from the dark under­belly of can­cer. Peo­ple, already rather flighty about the whole ill­ness thing, tend to get really uncom­fort­able when ill peo­ple do not act British about the whole thing. We want sick peo­ple to say “Righto, my boy, noth­ing a cuppa can’t fix!” and then take a long slurp of tea while some­how simul­ta­ne­ously smil­ing. In fact, if sick peo­ple wanted to be more pop­u­lar, they would sim­ply keep their ill­nesses to them­selves and never bother any­one until it was time to call the coro­ner. For whom they would have laid out the tea set.

Back to my con­fes­sion. It has been three months since I skipped my sched­uled scan and not a day goes by when I don’t think, for a moment, about the pos­si­bil­ity of recur­rence. Some­times, rather than being grate­ful and chip­per and unemo­tional about the whole thing, I feel a sud­den heat-flare of rage and indig­na­tion against no one in par­tic­u­lar and every­one who is not think­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of being invaded by tumors. In other words, decid­edly un-British.

I have health envy.

This became all the more appar­ent to me when I read a pas­sage in a John Con­nolly book. In it, a dying char­ac­ter describes his feel­ings about dying in the elo­quent and crass speech of a cop in a detec­tive noir novel:

[I] watch peo­ple piss their lives away for noth­ing, and I envy them every minute they waste.”

Thy­roid can­cer is usu­ally not a death sen­tence, but it cer­tainly makes you more aware of your mor­tal­ity.

And instead of think­ing, “Hey, I could be dying. I should let go of the lit­tle things and see only the good in peo­ple,” I get kind of judgy.

For instance, my neigh­bors smoke. Heav­ily. And since I live in an apart­ment with very thin walls I hear every hack and wheeze and some­times even smell the stale smoke waft­ing through into my closet. I find this highly annoy­ing. What I find worse is the fact that these neigh­bors have pink rib­bons on their cars. Clearly, they are aware of can­cer and prob­a­bly closely affected by it.

But they keep on smoking.

Now I under­stand it’s an addic­tion, but only in the ways that a non-addict can. And it still irks me. Unless they were wear­ing signs that said “Wel­come home, Can­cer,” they could not be more inviting.

And it has hap­pened with foods too. I’ll see peo­ple eat­ing fried foods, or super processed sug­ary foods and part of me goes “Well they’re just ask­ing for it.” Another part of me instantly goes “What the hell, that was not nice,” but it is too late. I already judged!

Quite pos­si­bly, these peo­ple are going to be just fine. And I real­ize that a lot of this judg­ment stems from my fear that I some­how caused my own can­cer. I did, after all, smoke at least three men­thol cig­a­rettes on my 21st birth­day (and then vom­ited pro­fusely) and as a teacher, ate more than my share of stale break-room donuts. There are some health trends that I am keep­ing up with because they make me feel bet­ter physcially. I like not con­sum­ing sodas or fast food any­more. But there also is a fine line between health-consciousness and health-phobias.

If you decide to purge your body of all nutri­tional and chem­i­cal evils, good luck. You will prob­a­bly begin with some vague google research and find your­self trapped in a mine-field of scare tac­tics and mis­in­for­ma­tion. You may even come to the not entirely off-track con­clu­sion that every­thing causes can­cer (if you read the arti­cle, you’ll find the author warns against try­ing to make your life revolve around a list of to-eats and not-to-eats).

In this way, a can­cer diag­no­sis is much like the start of a New Year. You imme­di­ately resolve to change your life in a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant, hope­ful ways. I am not say­ing to give up your resolve. Just make things a lit­tle eas­ier on your­self. We do not all have to be Lance Arm­strong (pre-scandal Lance, I mean). We can eat the occa­sional ice cream cone and skip the gym on warm rainy nights. We can con­tinue to be human.

Which means we should prob­a­bly let the healthy peo­ple around us be human too.


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