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Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Expectation

Can we just talk about inspirational cancer survivor news stories for a second? Because there are an awful lot of them. You know the type: Tough ass person gets cancer. Mainlines their chemo. Says fuck you, death. Competes in back to back triathlons, while raising research money, a few months later. Is an inspiration to us all.

Great story, sure. But a true one? I don't know. I think there's a lot that gets left out. I think there's a lot of pain in that story. I think they are a lot of tears, I think there's anger, and lots of being fucking pissed off, and screaming. A lot of fear, of self doubt. And I'm pretty sure there's a hefty dose of either constipation or diarrhea. Sometimes both. Fun!

But something tells me the diarrhea story doesn't make the news. (Unless your newscaster is Melissa McCarthy....if only!)

Even less likely to be shared than the diarrhea story, is the dying story. When someone, a plucky heroine or a determined hero, doesn't "beat cancer," despite having the "right" attitude, diet, mindset. When despite the toughest chemo, the greenest kale smoothies, and the most mindful mindfulness meditation, the person dies of their disease. I think there's a feeling of, if you're tough enough, if you want it enough, you will survive on sheer will. Anyone who doesn't just doesn't have their head in the game.Yeah, no.

In the beginning, I told myself that I refuse to die from this. That's all well and good, but now I know that what I want here has pretty much nothing to do with the outcome. That I can and will do everything I possibly can, of course. But ultimately, it is not in my control.

I guess that's what it is, isn't it? Why these stories are so prevalent? Because they illustrate the wrenching back of control of the body. In a big way. But is it just a perception, or reality? Depends who you ask, I guess.

Is it a huge deal when a champion curler makes it to the Olympics after her bone marrow transplant? Hell yeah. That's fucking awesome. But isn't it also huge when your knitting-fanatic support group friend is able to pick up her needles again? When your chemo ward pal has a day when his pain is under control? I say again: HELL YES.

It's a BIG FUCKING DEAL when you get back something that you lost. For me recently it's been the ability to lift my arm straight up in the air. I know that sounds like nothing. But it's taken me a year to get here, and I'm damn proud of myself.

There are a few stories I've come across that buck the cancer-survivor-as-ass-kicking-saint trope. One is the memoir Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person. Another is the movie 50/50. (The trailer has a sour hint of inspirational-ness...ignore that)



Both of these do a good job of telling the truth about the banality of it all. And they celebrate that. That doing whatever you goddamn well please is enough.

Some people might wonder what the harm is of all these stories. Or think that everything might be too depressing if we didn't have them. Maybe. But consider this. When discussing this topic, one friend said, "I feel like my family is waiting for me to do something inspirational." And isn't that the whole thing? She is getting through this in her own way. That should be the end of it. No need to cap it off with climbing Mount Everest, or winning American Idol, or whatever, if that's not what you do.

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