I once heard a scientist explain that cancer is a verb. Cancer is something that our bodies are continuously doing, and – when things go well – it is something the body is continually shutting down.
It is our body making mistakes. It’s not a foreign invader.
I knew before I was diagnosed that the there are many people who are upset by the language we commonly use when talking about cancer: fighting cancer. The imagery of war, battles and victories. Attack. Losses. Defeat.
The enemy is within.
Well-intended encouragement to “fight”, and assurances that if you have enough will, you will overcome it: that’s just an illusion of agency at best, responsibility at worst. Show me scientific proof that the emotional and mental hypervigilance of a warrior stance, held resolutely under physical duress, actually factors into survival.
Cancer is not a moral test.
They’ve taken B. off all medications except pain-relievers. The glioblastoma has returned with breath-taking speed. I haven’t thought of her has having fought all these months. Or as surrendinger now. What I have witnessed is that she has grieved and raged; she has followed the advice she found trustworthy; and she has looked for joy. And I know there were moments she found joy because she shared it and taught others how to do that. Brave? Yes. Warrior? I don’t know. I can’t speak for her. If I close my eyes and think to paint a portrait of her worthy of a tarot deck: yeah: Defender of the Moments.
Maybe only she would get (without explanation) the pure silliness I intend with that last sentence. She would laugh and ask me what I would have her wearing in the portrait. And I would cry. Because I do that a lot now when I think of her. It seems selfish. It is selfish. Too.
Nothing is pure.
If I believed in anything but the clockmaker God, I would fold my hands and pray: Oh, wrap B. and her family in a warm cocoon now. Let everything transform through and into an awkward kind of beauty. Let the good moments take root like the kind of immortal cells that
invade touch and color everything. Because there is this, too. There will always be this, as long as there is memory.
Instead I will send her a voice message. An envelope pressed up to the window of their sacred room right now. Open it. Don’t open it. But it is there. One love letter among the millions. Every one meaningful.
I didn’t know I was going to go there this morning.
I was going to write about metaphors. And the language of cancer. About cancer that is an inside job. Radical little cells just wanting to live.
When I touch my breast, I know this knot of cells isn’t the fault of something I ate, or inhaled, or thought. It’s not a manifestation of unresolved anger. It’s a slip-up in cell division. This, too, is nature. And nature is not our romantic notions of symmetry and dividing lines between the good and the evil. Trees are uprooted in gale winds. Bacteria hitch a ride in a flea, on a rodent, on a boat to land on a pier and ultimately all-but wipe out a human culture. Life happens. Sometimes it is not to our advantage. That isn’t the same thing as evil. That – this – is nature.
B. told me last Christmas that she didn’t believe in silver linings. I understood that to mean she didn’t believe we’re handed something nice in a kind of yin-yang balancing of good and bad as comfort or recompense. She did believe in the “this, too” and in choosing to hold everything – and not in spite.
My junior high art teacher told me that there are no true lines in nature. We impose those in our imaginations.
And I see now that painting is just another form of storytelling.
I am not sure how I want to talk about cancer. But I am not going to offended by anyone using language and imagery that differs from mine. Understanding other people’s perspectives is everyone’s responsibility. Discussions should be everyone’s little sandbox for joyful exploring. Build a castle. Knock it down. Start again.
Life is not a book that comes with an answer key in the back.
Thank god. That would be dismal.
Dismal is a cool word. Not used often enough. B’s word is awesome. Sometimes ironic, sometimes not. And when ironic, even the irony is ironic, which kind of makes it sincere. I told her I would get awesome tattooed on my body somewhere.
Next spring. That will be a good time to do it.
Right now? I am going to go move through a series of warrior poses. Then rest in child’s pose a while.
Then send a voice message.
Leave a Reply