(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.