I see Dr. O tomorrow around 1:00 pm. I can’t help but be nervous. I haven’t seen her since February. I don’t know what to expect. I still don’t know how to be on this side of cancer and cancer treatment. Do I have cancer? Am I cancer-free? I don’t have any answers and am afraid of surprises since every time I’ve seen Dr. O recently there’s been a surprise. I want no surprises. I don’t want to feel the way I feel…
I feel like I still have cancer. I don’t feel cancer free. I feel like it’s part of who I am now, and that sucks. I don’t want to be Cancer Girl, but I feel like that’s who my identity has become, or who I’ve let my identity become. Yet, I don’t know how else to be. There’s my life before August 22, 2015 and my life after August 27, 2015. Before cancer seems like a blur. After cancer, everything is in sharp focus.
I read the following last night on Humans of New York’s Facebook page regarding cancer, particularly children with cancer: “Cancer engenders immediate fear. I think that deep in our soul, we don’t want to admit to the possibility that we might have it too. So when someone else gets cancer, we turn that person into an ‘other.’ If that person is ‘other than us,’ then maybe it won’t happen to us. For the past thirty years, I’ve done everything I can to keep children from feeling like an ‘other.’ Yes, this child has cancer. But this child is a normal kid. Alongside their illness, they are dealing with demons that the average adult has never faced. So not only must we heal them, we must also never let them feel ‘less good’ or ‘less worthwhile.’ Because if we disrupt their ability to relate to the world, then the cancer will define the rest of their life.”
It’s one of the most profound statements regarding the way we, as a society, feel about cancer and the way we treat those with cancer. I know I’ve been mostly lucky in terms of how people treat me. No student has treated me with anything but respect and compassion. My coworkers and administration have been nothing short of amazing. None of my friends turned away from me or began avoiding me. My family has, for the most part, been nothing but supportive and encouraging. Yet, the feeling of “other,” is there. I am other. I have cancer. Yes, I’m L, a 38 year old woman with two kids, a husband, and a fulfilling career, but I’m also L, a 38 year old woman, diagnosed at 37 with aggressive breast cancer, for which I’ve been in treatment for since September 2015. I’ve seen the looks from people in public whom I do not know. The sympathy. The sadness. The relief that I’m me and they aren’t me.
“If that person is ‘other than us,’ then maybe it won’t happen to us.'”
I’m guilty of that feeling.
I’m a victim of that feeling.
I’m a victim of cancer.
I don’t want to be a victim.
I don’t want to be a fighter.
I want to be a person.
I want to be more than cancer.
I need to change, to adjust my sails.
But, I don’t know what direction in which to point my sails.
Maybe…maybe that’s the point.