Facing the Cancer Marathon

I was first exposed to cancer’s terrible reach when I saw the film, Brian’s Song, a story focused on the fate of football player, Brian Piccolo—he died of testicular cancer. The movie came out in 1971, though I’m not sure when I actually saw it. It could have been a year later (I would have been ten). I still remember the shock of this drama hitting my tender child’s mind. It seemed like an exotic tragedy back then, one that only happened in the movies. Any revelation that someone around us had cancer was viewed as sobering. It was rare. Usually, the person was not expected to live.

Now I have cancer, and most people believe I will survive. I probably will. Since my suspicious mass was first discovered 7 weeks ago, I’ve been told numerous cancer stories—stories about how people existing within 6 degrees of separation have gotten through their trials and are now thriving. The cancer drama is no longer exotic. It is no longer rare. It has almost become a rite of passage.

It’s still cancer.

It is easy to look at the numbers, not to mention the possibility of medical treatment as fine as a brand new Cadillac, and shrug. So and so just worked through that. I, myself, have had this reaction more than once. Given the current cancer statistics, I think it’s a fair one. Unfortunately, cancer’s ubiquitous nature does not prepare the patient for the magnitude of the marathon she may be facing. It’s still cancer. And it’s still hard.

This is not to imply people are brushing me off—quite the contrary. I’ve been touched by the offers of help, the gifts—the good wishes, thoughts, and prayers. Kindness matters, of course, but it’s strange to be the focal point of this sort of attention. You want it, and you don’t want it. You think about what you will need to do to pay it all back.

The first few weeks of cancer testing wreaked havoc with my emotions, cranking them up on the inside in a way I’ve never quite faced before. I kept telling myself, “So and so got through it.” But the body has its own wisdom. The body has its own way of overriding the mind to make its message loud and clear. A killer is present. I’ve decided to take heed of this – to me – surprising sense of vulnerability and see what I can learn from it.

My surgery is already becoming a distant memory. I am currently resting and waiting for the next line of treatment. My surgeon has told me I’ll be facing radiation. The possibility of chemo still exists. Though the initial psychological intensity I experienced has finally become muted and seemingly more normal, it still shows up at regular intervals, reminding me not to take anything for granted. Everything in my life is going under the microscope. Yeah, yeah, I know. All those other cancer patients went through this, too.

I was already moving toward a major life change before I received my diagnosis—I’d been feeling the need to shake up my career and begin a new phase. These explorations are now on hold, because change has grabbed me. I don’t know what my life will look like after this is all over and I feel healthy again. Wellness needs to be my focus and this could ultimately include some new decisions regarding the way I have designed my life. I suspect I’ll have a couple of months to allow insights and ideas to bubble up as I’m dealing with the nitty-gritty of cancer treatment. Meanwhile, it doesn’t hurt to listen to the birds, walk, dip into mystery novels, and watch spring arrive in my backyard. A wild bunny has been camped out there of late