The Good Cancer
I have cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer. The good cancer. Just above my left jar line, below my ear.
On Christmas Eve Eve I will have a 2 to 6 hour procedure to remove the cancer cells. My doctor is fairly certain things will be fine. Some soreness, some stitches but nothing that should infringe on my Christmas plans.
Maybe I’m overreacting, but when you hear you have cancer, even the good cancer, I’m guessing it’s normal to take a long drink from the short glass of self-pity.
Have you ever been gifted bad news and asked yourself, “Why me?”
Have you ever tossed your hands and said, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.”?
Have you ever shook your head and said, “It’s just not fair.”?
I did a lot of that this week. I held some ugly sweatered pity-parties for myself this week. Be thankful you were not invited.
In fact–I failed to write to you on Monday. I’m sorry.
But I just couldn’t think of anything short of wallowing. I didn’t want to contrive positive vibes if I had none. And plus, you don’t read my posts to hear me wallow. And these days, there’s enough wallowing at work, at the crowded food store, in the frozen mall parking lot to stuff our stockings.
When I heard the doctor’s diagnosis, even though he said it was the good cancer– common, treatable–I thought to myself, “Here we go again.” Another worry. Another illness. Another lump of coal.
But before I could finish writing those last few sentences a few things happened:
Haley asked me to help her study subject-verb complements for a test.
Cindy hustled down the stairs and announced the vacuum was broken.
Dylan sprinted into the quiet backroom where I was writing and began wrestling a couch cushion.
Ready or not, cancer or not, life is happening at breakneck speed all around us, and it’s our responsibility to decide on what to do with it. Our happiness, our ability to make lemonade comes down to perspective. Do we have the patience and courage and perseverance to find a light buried in darkness?
I don’t need to remind you that life is hard.
Life is full of worry and despair and anger and frustration and sadness. There are high and lows and valleys of uncertainty in between.
I know. From my brain diagnosis in 2013 to today, for almost a decade I have traversed those emotions, losing my footing, in desperate need of a guide.
When we’re tramping through hard times, we tend to think we tramp alone. That no one understands our journey. That our burden rests uniquely on our shoulders. That our burden is solely ours to carry.
The purpose of writing to you is not for pretentious soapbox pontification or to tell you how to live your life or to make you think I’m some suburban guru sitting high in his 7 passenger minivan disguised as an SUV.
I’m writing to remind myself to write on and fight on.
I’m writing so that you and I may feel less alone.
I’m writing so that you and I may realize our setbacks are ripe opportunities to embrace new and fruitful perspectives. As a friend recovering from drug addiction said to me, “I had to eat shit in order to know what real food tastes like.”
Sure we can eat alone, but we do not suffer alone. We do not experience life alone. Our ups and downs are shared others. And realizing our suffering, our behavior is negatively affecting the people we love, the people we want positive things for is your cue to change your perspective.
I believe in storytelling. I believe stories provide clarity and empathy in uncertain times and selfish times. I believe we begin to understand mysterious parts of ourselves when we witness those parts working the engine of someone else’s life–a minivan that appears to be running a little smoother than ours.
Personal attitudes, definitions, and perspectives only shift when we let other people’s stories turn the key and ignite our own engine.
I can’t tell you how to live you life. I can’t tell you everything is going to be okay.
But I can tell you a story.
I can tell you that I have cancer.
The good cancer.
PS- A big shout out to my mom who is semi-retiring this week. She is the hardest working person I know and deserves some R&R. Also– she was with me when I was diagnosed with skin cancer and she’ll be there when I have the procedure. As a parent, it’s hard to see your child, no matter their age, struggle. To deal with uncertainty. But through my decade of uncertainty, mom has always been there for me and with me in many-a doctor’s waiting room. She has gifted me strength without saying a word. Which is something amazing. Which, as a parent myself now, I can only hope to provide my children with the same strength she has provided me with. Thanks mom. Now take a breath, have a cup of tea, and get some rest.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like: A decade of waiting (or a part of me is in a petri dish right now)
The other day, I had a small medical procedure done and as I write this sentence a chunk of my body floats in a petri dish waiting for a diagnosis.
This impending diagnosis is something new– unrelated to my sarcoidosis and cerebellar degeneration.
And that’s where I’m right now, in two places, a petri dish and here talking to you.
Talking to you helps. It centers me. I busy my mind with puzzles of diction and syntax. I seek myself in sentences. And that’s good. We need healthy distractions. And so thank you for being a healthy distraction.
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