This Too Shall Pass (But when?)

I keep telling myself that this too shall pass…

But what will it pass on to?
And when?

Too often with the cancer you wind up trading one pain in the ass for another.  Sometimes you don’t even trade– you’ll often end up with two (or a half-dozen) pains in the ass at once.  How Cancerful is that!  It’s a real pain in the ass, to be honest.

I’m speaking figuratively, of course: the pains, while frequent and widespread (motley and multifarious, if you’ll allow the saurus), are typically  located in areas other than the derriere.  Like the head, for example.  I’ve had a lot of pains in the head.  But there have also been pains in the neck, and the knees, and the gut…  and now that I think about it, the derriere area has seen its own share of Cancerful controversy over the last few years too.  So sometimes the pain in the ass really is a pain in the ass.

Point is, there’s a lot of pains, wherever they may be located.  In the ass, or elsewhere.
For the sake of clarity, let’s just call them “a pain in the me,”  and get back to what we were originally talking about before this long pain-in-the-ass digression.  OK?  OK. Here we go:

I keep telling myself that this too shall pass…

But what will it pass on to?
And when?

Too often with the cancer you wind up trading one pain-in-the-me for another.  Sometimes you don’t even trade: you’ll often end up with two (or a half-dozen) pains-in the-me at once.  What a pain in the me!

To confuse matters, these Cancerful pains aren’t always painful  in the physical sense.  They can be intellectual or emotional pains.  Or, they can be physical things in your body that don’t actually hurt, but are so annoying and inconvenient that they still totally qualify as a HUGE pain-in-the-me.  (Which because I like acronyms and in the interest of brevity I will now call PITMs.)

This morning, i’ve got a few PITMs going.  One of them is in my gut, and this despite the fact (and not because of the fact) that I just had cake for breakfast.
Hey don’t judge–the last time I had cake for breakfast was after I had brain surgery (I earned it!)   And that was like a month ago, anyway.  This time, it was just because I happened to bake a cake last night before I went to bed, and what the hell else was I going to do when I got up this morning and saw a chocolate cake sitting there– eat cereal?  What am I, a fucking moron?

Anyway, my tummy hurts.  This has been going on for awhile.  And I swear it’s not because of my dietary habits; it’s a side-effect of a side-effect of all the cancer-fighting I’ve been doing.  All this surviving  has left with me with a pretty messed up gut, and that–my gut–was one of the things in my pre-Cancerful years that I never had a problem with.  In terms of size, or functionality.  My gut always worked real good.

Now, it’s a problem.  It’s one more pain-in-the-me,  in addition to all the other PITMs I still have, or will soon get.  For example, the tiny fracture in my back that I didn’t even know about (because I can’t feel it), which was apparently caused by medications, and not by anything fun like wrestling or climbing or trampoline-jumping.  Medicine fractured my back!  What a pain in the me!

But this is what happens.  You stay in this Cancerful fight long enough and you wind up with a lot of battle scars.  They come at you from all directions, and every single one of them is a pain-in-the-me.  The irony of surviving is that you get beat down.  It’s a war of attrition.  And the collective weight of all these scars eventually starts to feel like it might be heavy enough alone to bring you down, even though you’re still standing, despite the cancer.  (Or sitting, as I currently am.)

So when I told myself this morning that this one particular PITM I’ve been having trouble with– my newly surgically damaged vision — would eventually get better, I laughed.  At myself.  (Which is normal, when you’re having a conversation with yourself.)  I laughed, because…  well then what?

Because, when you’re Cancerful, the PITMs seem to just keep coming.  They come from every direction, and sometimes when you least expect it (much like the Spanish Inquisition.)  Surprisingly, some PITMs suck worse than the cancer that brought them on in the first place (which makes them part of the cancer, I guess?).  And they just keep piling up,  building on each other in one big Cancerful mess, until…

Until…

Hold on.  I gotta take a break.

[10 MINUTE PAUSE.   MAYBE 15.]

 

OK, I’m back.

As you might be able to tell, I”m having a really hard time writing this post.  Sometimes it’s easy, but sometimes it’s not.  This time, it’s not.

You see, this time, it’s actually difficult for me to see what I’m doing.  And I mean that literally:  I’ve had to keep my right eye closed the entire time I’ve been writing this.  With this new vision PITM I’m dealing with, for some reason that somehow makes it easier to focus on a computer screen.  But it’s still hard to focus.  And that’s not even mentioning the difficulties I have getting my brain to focus.

So there’s that, and the gut thing, and…. and even though I had cake for breakfast and I’m sitting in a comfy chair and a there’s a nice breeze blowing through the air… I’ve noticed several times in the last three hours (three hours!) that I’ve had to tell myself to keep going.  To just  finish writing this.

I’m telling myself that right now, in fact.  And I’m not even sure why.  I’m not even sure where I’m going with this.

I started writing this post because an idea popped into my head that I felt like I wanted to write about.  And I like writing.  So I started writing… but now it just feels like I’m complaining.  And I don’t like complaining.

I don’t want to complain anymore.  Ideally, I’d love to not have a reason (or many reasons) to complain anymore… but I know that that’s not going to happen.  I can’t just snap my fingers and make all these PITMs go away.  This is what I’m dealing with right now, and I have to deal with it.  This is where I am, right now, and it’s up to me what to do with it.

So what will the next paragraph entail?

I just smiled, when I wrote that.  I smiled, because it made me realize that right now, while this does suck, while all of these stacked up PITM’s are indeed a real pain in the ass, it is still up to me what to do with it.

I am lucky enough that it still IS up to me.

And that, my Cancerful friends, is bigger than a pain in the gut, or the butt, or the head OR the ass.  And sometimes it’s bigger than all of those combined.

So right now (Write! Now!) I’m going to finish writing this post, to cheer myself up.  I’m going to take this complaint about pains in the ass, and turn it into an encouraging, inspirational (and not painful) kick in the ass.

Because that’s all I got right now.  And you know what?  That’s good enough.  Because it was enough to make me smile again.  Just now.  And that’s a good place to start.

I think it might also be a good place to end.  Because even with only one eye open, it looks to me like I’m about to finish this post.  And I’m happy that I did.  Which means that I’m happy.   I just cheered myself up!  Which means that:

This, too, DID pass!

But what will it pass on to?

Maybe that’s up to me.

THE END.  (?)

Death, Life, and Cancer Zombies

I’m reading a wonderful book about cancer— a biography of cancer— called “The Emperor of All Maladies.”  I would recommend it to anyone interested in both the story and the biology of this disease, as it’s filled with enough juicy facts (and plot twists!) to both entertain and to bring you well within the reach of feeling that you’re somewhat of an expert on the topic of cancer. (Not to be confused with the Tropic of Cancer— it doesn’t talk about that at all).  I’ve read a lot about cancer, thought a lot about cancer, and this book covers a great deal of it, in great detail.  I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Gushing reviews aside (as if he needs my blurb for his front cover— he’s already got Oprah, the New Yorker, and a Pulitzer Prize), there’s something ingrained in the way he tells this story that rubs me (only so slightly) the wrong way: it’s a breathless, occasionally hyperbolic dramatist’s telling of The History of Cancer as The Biography of An Enemy.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the necessity of spinning a good yarn if you want to get people through 470 pages on cancer (and win a Pulitzer Prize and an Oprah Book Club mention in the process), but from the title to the subtitle and throughout the narrative itself, there’s this constant literary implication that cancer is a character: a humanoid creature with a mind, and a motive.  In other words, he anthropomorphizes cancer, and if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning you know I don’t like to talk about cancer like I’m talking about Brandon.  And here’s why:

When you consider the gorgeous complexity of the human body (or any vertebrae, for that matter) with its interwoven matrices of different cell types and chemical types and organs and reactions and counter reactions all synchronized in a perfectly orchestrated ballet of life… the SIMPLISTIC BARBARITY OF CANCER is almost… hilarious.

So add this to the list of reasons that I take issue with turning cancer into a person, or an enemy, or even “a beast.”  If you’re going to see cancer as an evil thing with a mind and a motive— if you’re going to anthropomorphize it— you might as well do the same for saliva, or the lymphatic system (what a wonder!), or the fantastical (and fantastically functional) digestive microbiome working its ass off inside of your actual ass every goddamn day, just keepin’ things flowing without ever asking for a damn thing in return!

But we never do that, do we?  We don’t even anthropomorphize our eyes, and our eyes are a hell of a lot more interesting and complex (and beautiful and functional) than stupid cancer.  Eyes would actually be gods in our bodies if were anthropomorphizing the whole setup!  But when’s the last time you heard somebody refer to human eyes as benevolent gods bent on showing us the light, and illuminating our way, or bridging the gap between our minds and the visible world beyond us?  (Here’s a guess: never.  Or maybe in some random poem that I’m sure somebody is going to find for me.)

But if we insist on giving cancer a brain and a motive— and we do it all the time, so clearly we insist— then let me propose this: if cancer is a character in the story of our bodies, then it is only one character in a cast of millions.  And here’s the thing: it’s one of the dumbest goddamn characters in the lot!  All it does is get in the way!

In fact, one of the most interesting things about cancer is how stupid it is: it’s one of the only parts of your body that is just totally uncooperative.  But it still is (if you have it, and this part is crucial) a part of your body.

Cancer is on your team— it’s just not playing by the rules.  And it didn’t quit because it’s too old (like a heart), or because you drank too much and broke it (like a liver— speaking of which why do we never call our hearts and livers demons when they stop cooperating?)

The only reason cancer doesn’t play by the rules is that it’s been brain damaged from the start.  It was born that way.  And you’re the one who gave birth to it.  So can you really blame it?

The point is, cancer is really, really dumb— all it’s good at is fucking and making more of itself.  (Unfortunately, it’s really really good at that).  But it doesn’t even know what it’s doing it, and it certainly doesn’t have a grand plan, so don’t flatter it by calling it a “beast” or (Eyes forbid) comparing it to something as wonderful as a human being.

At best, cancer is a zombie.  But it’s a zombie whose horror comes not in biting or brain-eating, but in over-procreating.  (Think of how the English used to think about the Irish, or how some people still think of other people, because we’re all assholes.)

Look at it this way, if you insist on anthropomorphizing: Cancer Zombies just wander around aimlessly, each zombie splitting into two zombies every five minutes, eventually making just so many damn zombies that they’re eating all the food and clogging up all the highways and pretty soon you can’t even open the door to your house anymore because they’re piled up all over the lawn!  And when they break through your windows, they don’t do it with their fists, they do it because there were so many of them out there that they just got forced inside.  You can’t really blame them for over-occupying all your space— it’s just what they do!  (It’s all they do, in fact.)

So why, if cancer is a part of us, and it’s just one of the many many parts of us (and not even the most interesting one, by a long shot), why is cancer the one part that we turn into a thinking thing?  And why are we so afraid of it?

It’s simple.

Because we’re afraid of death.

We try to ignore death, but we can’t, because we know it’s coming.  (It’s definitely, positively coming.)  And so death lurks in the background, it has to hide in the shadows, and it gets creepy there because we don’t want to look at it.  And pretty soon, death turns into something that we FEAR.  It’s a spook in the night!

Would we fear death so much if we didn’t try so hard to ignore it?

There’s another big thing that we shouldn’t ignore (that we’re very good at ignoring) but we don’t fear at all, because it surrounds us each and every day, and (if we’re lucky) we like looking at it.  And that thing… is LIFE.

Life!  Now that’s something worth anthropomorphizing!

She’s a beautiful lady, Life.  She’s gorgeous, in fact.  With one of the most incredible faces— and the biggest heart— I’ve ever seen.  So caring, Life!  She walks beside us day after day, holding our hand even when we don’t realize she’s doing it.  Even if we tried to let go of her hand, we couldn’t.  Because she holds onto us, Life.  And it is only when SHE is ready to send us on our way that she finally releases her careful, caring grip.

And there is no need to fear that moment, because Life will take every ounce of us with her—she will carry us with her!— as she goes along on her beautiful, merry way.  We are an inextricable part of Her, and Her us, and it will always be that way.

And that’s all I have to say about that.