Did a blood-draw today in prep for my onco checkup next week. This time the phlebotomist drew from the outside of my arm and I wish more of them did that. All told it wasn’t an arduous experience, just a minor pain in the ass. Which, if you remove the “minor,” effectively describes my experience with cancer so far. Or most of it.
Yesterday a friend went into the hospital for a stem cell transplant. She’ll be there a month – “in the cocoon”, she calls it – and it’s easier to focus my worry for her on how much she’s going to miss her beloved cat than how difficult this next month and the ones that follow might be for her. I don’t know if they actually will; I never got near such a procedure myself (though the onco says it might be an option if the cancer does return). What I do know is my friend is like me a very active person and I would be miserable having my activity curtailed for months. Something else that’s easier to focus my worry for her on than… other possibilities, let’s say.
3 1/2 years after treatment the story I tell of my own cancer is that it was little more than a lengthy inconvenience, that I got off light and between ACA coverage and good doctors and a healthy immune system didn’t have it so bad. The truth of that is solid enough that it becomes more real the more I repeat it to others or even just to myself. Throughout all this the stories of people in my support group have helped me understand how lucky I’ve really been. A number of those people are dead now so no, not bad at all. Right?
And this story has become so deeply etched that a few days ago writing in my journal I set down several items on my wish-list which had in the last few years been fulfilled mostly on their own and the first was, “That having cancer won’t truly fuck up my life.” Best as I can understand it, my small part in that has been to say “I’m lucky” over and over. Because as propagandists know, repeat something often enough and it becomes not only the truth but all of the truth.
Yet a few weeks ago when my friend held a get-together to explain her situation and how we could help, after it was over I was in a side-room crying: triggered not only by the honesty and determination she displayed but by how hearing another’s still-in-progress story made me face that for me it was after all actually pretty bad. That what made it bad was not necessarily the cancer itself but how hard I’d had to work, was still working, to keep fear from dominating.
The story as I tell it makes little room for how afraid I really was. How I still am, all the time. Afraid of losing family or close friends where I survive by nothing more than random chance, of the cancer returning because my luck finally runs out, of it this time being not just worse but so horrible that I wish for death the way another friend says she did at times during her treatment. The way my father did rather than go back into treatment himself. That day in the side-room was my first time admitting that fear is as much a part of the story as luck or determination or good care and probably always will be whether I tell of it or not.
I don’t know what the future holds for my friend any more than for myself. When I’m feeling strong (which despite the above is much more than not) I picture the two of us some years from now having a cup of tea and saying, Boy it got pretty hairy there for awhile didn’t it? And then laughing, because for both of us the feared worst never even came close to happening but what did instead was in the end essentially just a big pain in the ass. That’s my hope. We have medicine, we have stories and we have hopes and we need all of them.
(Republished from my personal Facebook account.)