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Sunday, June 7, 2015

National Cancer Survivor's Day

"Hello, hidden pain. So strange how you resemble my old face."

This line from a poem by Matthew Siegel has been bouncing around my head for the last few weeks.

Today is National Cancer Survivor's Day.

I don't like the term 'survivor.' In fact I think I hate it. For one, it deftly ignores those who have died, silently putting them in the column of Not Enough Moxie to Win. Not Enough Positivity. Did Something Wrong.

Those who have died, 40,000 a year from breast cancer in the U.S., did nothing wrong. They did not choose the wrong doctors, they did not give up, they did not not fight hard enough. The lesson to learn from those 40,000 is not one about keeping positive or staying strong -- it's about the confluence of luck and science. Being lucky enough to qualify for/afford/be responsive to the right drugs. That's all.

So a day that recognizes my good luck within the bad makes me feel nothing but unsettled and wrong. Like escaping a shipwreck in which 1/3 of the other passengers drowned, just because I happened to be standing near a life boat.

You understand why this feels complicated.

I don't need an official reminder that I'm alive and others are not. I don't need a sanctioned day, a party at the hospital with soda in plastic cups and a jazz quartet paid for by the music therapy program, to make me feel some approved combination of feelings.

Know that I am not proud, because I did nothing different than anyone else. I do not feel strong or brave or any of the other things people say about those who've had cancer, because those things have nothing to do with the accident of still being alive, and know that today I do not wish to celebrate.

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