Cancer log 134: Not a…

Cancer log 134: Not a fighter.

There's this language, that people commonly use around cancer, and throughout the last year, it's mostly felt wrong for me. Part of it is the chorus of "Fuck cancer" that people tend to use. I don't actually mind it when people say that to / around me, because it's clearly well-meant and deeply felt. I take it in the spirit in which it's intended, and that's comforting.

But when I see a string of comments echoing that phrase, it also makes me feel odd, because something about that format makes me feel like I'm supposed to be chorusing along with it, and I can totally see the social value in my community coming together to ritually abuse this terrible thing....but it's just not my language.

I mostly don't swear -- I mean, I might let out an occasional "Dammit!" when I drop a hammer on my toe or something. But the rest of the profanities / obscenities / etc. are just not part of my normal vocabulary. (Lisette, I don't know if you remember this, but once in high school, I awkwardly and very self-consciously tried to swear in the middle of a conversation, and you told me to stop, that I was doing it wrong. Truer words were never spoken...) I never got in the habit of cussing; I have never in my life said "Fuck you" to anyone. So it feels weird, addressing that to cancer.

(If swearing is part of your normal conversational mode, then it totally makes sense to swear at cancer, and I often find it supportive / heartening / even charming when my friends swear at cancer. Haddayr swears excellently and gorgeously, for example.)

I also don't tend to personalize cancer that way, as something to address (or battle). I can see how it could be helpful to visualize one's cancer, to see it as an entity, an opponent on a battlefield. I've had a moment of that, here or there. And maybe if it had been more pervasive in my body, more of an active threat, that framing would make more sense to me?

I've been in battles. In my 20s, I thought of myself as a sex activist -- writing erotica, talking about sex openly, at a time when people found that much more shocking, disturbing, even offensive than they do now. That was hard. It was something I had to brace myself for; I would gird my loins, as it were, before opening those conversations. People would yell at me, shun me; I would sometimes want to cry. And even though my actual enemy was somewhat amorphous, I had a really clear sense of what it was that I was fighting -- the pervasive normalizing social forces that made it so difficult for people to talk honestly and openly about sex, causing so much heartache and damage thereby (among other things, perpetuating rape culture). That was a battle I could throw myself into whole-heartedly.

Cancer has felt...different. It has felt much more like pregnancy, honestly. A challenging experience for my body, a series of unpleasant medical procedures to endure. There were so many IV needle sticks in my pregnancies. My early cancer diagnosis and positive prognosis meant that I generally felt pretty hopeful about the end result of the medical treatments -- in fact, I was much more scared during my pregnancy with Kavya; I was an older mom, high-risk, and terrified that something was going wrong with the pregnancy. I often thought that the baby might have died inside me, and I just didn't know yet. Lots of nightmares. Cancer has been overall much less scary, oddly enough.

So not a battle, more of an endurance test. And thankfully, so far, cancer hasn't really come close to testing my actual endurance capability. The physical parts have been tiring, irritating, a little nerve-wracking, slightly painful at points -- but honestly, not all that bad.

As for the emotional parts -- there's been some tears, but tears are part of life. The nine months or so when Kevin and I broke up, in 2002, were much harder emotionally. I would call my friends, exhausted and broken-hearted, and tell them I honestly didn't know how I could do this. I would wake up, facing the next day as a graduate student, full of writing and reading I should care about, and I was just...devastated. For a while there, I didn't know who I was.

So maybe it's just that my cancer has been relatively mild, and that it came to me at a point when the rest of my life was so stable. I have been incredibly well-supported in dealing with this. And maybe if cancer comes back someday, it will be worse, and it will feel more like an actual battle. Maybe that language, where people congratulate me for being such a fighter, will feel more accurate. I'm sure that that language / metaphor works for a lot of people, and if you have cancer, and that framing feels right to you, obviously you should go with it!

Right now, though, it's honestly easier for me to think of cancer as just a disease, like many others. When I was first diagnosed, someone else who had been through cancer treatment told me that our social awareness of cancer was off -- that for those of us lucky enough to have a treatable version of the disease, caught early, cancer was more like a very bad flu.

If you're human, you'll get sick, and there will be times your body will fall apart, a little or a lot. It will be deeply unpleasant. But you take your medicine, endure the course of the illness, and most of the time, you get better.

Just one damned thing after another, y'know? You get through it the best you can. Ice cream helps.

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