A friend emailed a video about cancer, depicting the equivalent of a party scene in the chemo room with kickin’ it song and dance. While my initial response was yes, how awesome, it didn’t sit well with me. The more I thought about it, the more I found it off-putting. I’m not turned off by any patient who utilizes an upbeat spirit to tenaciously cling to hope. We all survive as best we can and I certainly had my own tools to keep me afloat.
Maybe I’ve just had my fill of pink confetti. No matter how pretty cancer looks in pink, until I see a cure, you won’t see me pop a cork or wave a victory flag. In the words of the Talking Heads song, “This ain’t no party…” And while we’re on the topic, it’s not sexy either. If you follow popular cancer sites or read the books, you know what I’m referring to. Let me add that I like and respect the good work this person is doing, including having the marketing savvy to know that sex-y sells. Many have benefited and that’s what matters.
I have a problem, however, with the inadvertent message that glamorizes cancer to the uninitiated. The face we show to the world often depicts the pretty-in-pink Wonder Woman who stares the monster in the face, one stiletto heel on its chest, while waving a fist in victory. Is it any wonder some people don’t understand why we can’t make it to their backyard barbecue? “What do you mean you can’t come? You had chemo two days ago. The barbecue is today!” This actually happened to a woman in my support group. Her friend was so miffed, she wouldn’t speak to her for days.
I’m a cup-half-full person who’s also a realist. At the risk of sounding negative, I feel it’s important to affirm the reader and acknowledge the dark, dreary days because cancer has a lot of that kind of weather. It’s like Alaska in winter except not as pretty.
While I soothed myself through music, nature and spiritual practice, I certainly didn’t feel like a prize fighter. I went into treatment shaken but with a strong spirit, and came out bent over as one who’d become cancer’s bitch – physically, emotionally and financially battered. While I may be deemed cancer-free, truth be told, cancer kicked my ass. It didn’t kill me, but it whipped me.
At one point, my white blood cell count was a “1.” I had a fever for more than a week, mouth sores, and more. The mouth sores were so painful, I couldn’t talk or eat for days and lost too much weight. I was in so much physical pain that in my delirium, I begged God to take my life. I’m grateful I wasn’t taken seriously and am still here because I love my kids too much to move on, not to mention this sliver of time is now nothing more than a dim memory. What remains, however, are some far-reaching ramifications that are the domino effect of illness.
Speaking of which, to my sisters who have been robbed of children not yet conceived, let me acknowledge that as one of the cruelest of cancer’s “charms.”
While many are fortunate to bypass complications and have all the right support systems in place, people don’t feel sexy with multiple drains hanging from their rib cage, loss of hair, or sporting a woolen cap in bed because no matter how much you rock the bald by day, the bald rocks cold by night.
If cancer is sexy, I guess I didn’t get lucky. Chemistry? Forget it. Cancer didn’t arouse me, nor did it romance me. Instead, it robbed my wallet, beat me to a pulp, and left me half-dead on the sidewalk of life.
For me, it was as though my house were on fire. Firemen came with their big trucks and hoses and extinguished the flames. A significant portion was burned and needed repair. I stared at the charred and damaged house while everyone cheered, “Hooray! The house was saved!” And I wondered why they couldn’t see all the loss and devastation or how long it would take to rebuild and restore.
After Hurricane Sandy, you didn’t spot any cheerleaders when people survived the damage to their homes. You saw hurting people who thanked God through their tears that they were still alive as the community joined together to rebuild. People don’t often see our damage because it’s mostly not tangible, but for many, the cessation of treatment marks the beginning of dealing with the fallout and slowly rebuilding their lives.
You can Photoshop and airbrush cancer all you want. At the end of the day, it’s still a stoned-ugly creep with a personality disorder. I wish it had been a hot, sexy time, but I don’t recall cancer’s sensuous lovemaking; only that I got screwed. If there were a shred of romance underneath its grotesque appearance, then it was a toxic, abusive whirlwind that left me with swollen eyes and bleeding lips.
I often hear the clink of glasses in the distance; toasts raised so high, they brush the steps that lead to God’s house. All the while I gaze at the rubble beneath my feet and the shards strewn across the floor. Little by little, I sweep the debris. Splinters of glass still pierce the soles of my feet.