My good friend, Johanna Wilson, recently posted a comment to my last blog. I find it so compelling that I’ve deleted the comment and reproduced it here in its entirety. It is honest, humble (perhaps a bit too self-deprecating, though), and I think quite representative of the way people with cancer feel—and a strong denunciation of the popular view of how we feel. This deserves front-and-center attention:
I’m with Ms. Ehrenreich in many of her objections to our society’s popular perspective of cancer. Most of the “cancer people” I’ve spoken with don’t like the term “survivor.” In my childish frame of reference, I survived chemo, not necessarily cancer. (It was the cancer that failed to survive the chemo!) It seems to me that survivors are people who withstand a terrific onslaught because of something they did to promote their survival. If you live through a catastrophic event as a passive observer, you just got lucky.
I also jump on the bandwagon of folks who object to the militarization of commentary on cancer: “battle,” “struggle,” “war.” I don’t remember any battles or war. I just remember treatment. Likewise, terms like “brave” and “determined” didn’t apply to me. All I did was have treatment. My medical team and my caregiver put forth all the effort. I just “took it.” I certainly never wondered why more hadn’t been done in cancer research (speaking of Ms. Ehrenreich on that last point there). I felt lucky to live in a society that could provide treatment, and I was lucky to be able to access it. (I know you share that appreciation.)
I may lack an important personality trait that promotes the survival of the species, but I just never felt any anger or sadness about having cancer. (A feeling of loss of control right there at the first, but that passed.) Fortunately, I never wondered, “Why me?” (I’m always tempted to ask, “Who would you nominate as your replacement, then?”) The cancer didn’t pick me. I may have actually contributed to its development with some lifestyle choices: Poor diet, lack of exercise, stressful response to work, etc. No one to blame except possibly myself.
What I did experience in my own cancer journey was an outpouring of friendship and caring, including the way out of the way side trip you and Greg took to visit me! I am confirmed in the absolute knowledge that hair and boobs and fingernails are so overrated. (Well, fingernails and toenails are nice, but they’re not part of my identity.) For a brief time, my concerns were bigger than the petty irritations of daily life. (I’ve forgotten most of that lesson. Marty says I’ll have to repeat the exercise.) Mind you, I’m quite aware that my journey and treatment pale in comparison with yours, but for me, it was a difficult time, but not a negative time. It just was . . . only bigger. I’m not sure it’s any more appropriate to react emotionally to cancer than it is to an “angry sea” or a “merciless desert sun.”
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it! Let the games begin!