It probably seems terribly strange to read the words I used to title this blog post:
THE GIFT OF CANCER
How on earth could anyone see cancer as a gift? Yet I do. I’ve said it before, and I’m often fascinated by the responses, which range from astonishment to anger, and cover every shade in between. Were I not a many-times-survivor of cancer myself, I would not dare to use such a phrase. I suppose as I reflect on it, the angry response from other survivors is the most rational and understandable. I tend to reserve anger for things I can control, but that’s a habit that took a lifetime to develop.
Still, as I face a new round of slugging it out with Demon Cancer, I still view it as one of my life’s greatest gifts. Embracing that notion years ago also freed me to actually see that gift at work, and discover nuances and layers I’d not, otherwise, have found.
Though I cam close to dying in two of these past battles, that proximity also removed most of my fear of death. I certainly don’t want to go… but I can, without terror or agony in the departing. I know this because I laid my hand on that door a few times, and though my heart ached at the thought of leaving Ahmed, it was a journey I could have made. Both times I was ready, regretfully, to ease into that last sleep. So cancer has stripped me of the fear that most have. A great gift.
The worst part of a diagnosis like the one I got last week is not, for me, fearing I’ll lose the battle; it’s knowing I have to struggle my way back into that armor and do it. Radiation is a bitch. Losing hair is depressing. Having no energy and wanting to throw up all the time is certainly nothing to which I look forward. But unlike people who have not faced it before, I know that even in the darkest stretch, I’ll be able to see the finish line. Hope, for me, is not just a concept or a possibility. Hope is a lock. It will end. I’ve been here before, and know the way out. A great gift.
Knowing that path has allowed me to do talks, act as a mentor, and help others who are facing the disease or helping a loved one through it. Never in a million years would I have thought, as a young woman who spat fire and tackled the world in a rush, that I would one day be the calm in the center of anyone’s storm. Yet here I am… telling good people facing their worst fear it will be okay; and doing it with the weight of my experiences to bolster that belief. Filling in the empty cracks of empowerment that only another survivor can see: how to get the kids fed and safe, how to manage the schedule, what quirky symptoms the doctors won’t think to point out. Possibly the greatest of the gifts.
The people I have met—some I was so happy and grateful to help—have been amazing. Even the patients or loved ones I spend time with in waiting rooms, lobbies of the radiation center, sitting with an IV while the medicine drip-drip-drips… these people have been comforting, entertaining, educational, and sometimes challenging. But they have all been blessings. They’ve all been tremendous gifts.
And, of course, had I not been getting regular checks on my lungs after beating lung cancer, I would already be dead and gone. They caught pulmonary fibrosis in it’s earliest stages, and that has allowed me to live beyond the normal span… I am already a statistical anomaly. I suppose, if I am on borrowed time anyway, the time, itself, is a gift.
So today I am lucky, as I gird these saggy old loins for yet another battle. Tomorrow I will begin a course of intensive targeted radiation for a cancer in my salivary gland. I’ll get a cool mesh mask to cover my mug, and get to lay on a slap while a huge spooky space-age thingy circles my head. I’ll get sick, and almost certainly go bald. I’ll be tired. I’ll be weak. I’ll have depths of weepiness. It will end, and whatever hair I lose will grow back. All these things I know. What I don’t know is who I will meet to inspire me, what I will learn in the process, and how these will change me… these are the gifts coming my way.
Thank you, angels of waiting rooms and dark dreams, for the gifts I am about to receive.