Why cancer ticks me off

Maybe this post should be titled: The danger of going off half-cocked in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep because you have cancer. You’re mostly not terrified. The docs are being positive. But when the house is quiet, and the streets are empty and you can hear the clock ticking, then the fear creeps in. The desperate insistence that you WILL be there for your family wraps around you like a boa constrictor.

Then you start to think about all the breast cancer doo-dads, all the easy pieties, the pink ribbon magnets on SUVs. It’s not even been three weeks since my diagnosis, and I already have several cancer center pens, a cancer notepad, even a cancer emery board in case I want to do my nails while waiting to have needles shot into my breasts. It’s pink, of course. I bought some things at a pharmacy today and when asked if I’d like to donate a buck for breast cancer research, you bet I said yes. Hell, yes. But all that’s too easy. Just as it seemed too easy for my cousin to just cut and paste a statement of support for people with cancer.

As it turns out, things have not been easy for the cousin in my previous post. First of all, her husband died of cancer. There is NO way to make up for that, nothing to say, nothing to do that will make that better. Not only this, she has recently lost a dear friend to lung cancer, another friend to multiple cancers. Still another friend’s 12-year-old daughter died of bone cancer 9 months ago. 12 years old! Bone cancer is excruciating; I’ve written stories about it. My cousin’s running partner is in remission from lymphoma.

My cousin emails me this morning that she is tired of people being angry with her because she does not have cancer. She says she hadn’t heard of my diagnosis, and that I made a big assumption when I thought she had. She is right.

Cancer ticks me off, but not at my cousin, not any longer. I’m not angry at her because she is healthy.

I am angry at cancer. Cancer ticks me off because it makes me stupid.

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About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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3 Responses to Why cancer ticks me off

  1. Alex says:

    Heather,
    Thank you for the honesty of your writing. I still tear up some time when I talk about my mother’s final days and hours. I had moved home to care for her after she was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was 42. It was her second bout, after surviving uterine cancer in her thirties, when I was a senior in high school. This time she swore me to secrecy because she didn’t want my siblings to know that she was so ill. She said not to come to visit her until I could treat her “normally,” meaning without pity, and only being positive about things. It took me a month to muster up the courage.

    With her persistent hacking through the nights, and pain from the radiation, I would actually pray some nights that she would die. How awful is that? But I really meant it in the best way.

    When I went to clean out her room, I was surprised – no, shocked – to find pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary along with a rosary tucked between the mattress and the box spring. In the privacy of her bedroom, this had been the source of strength that helped her cope with the idea that she had six months to live.

    Nothing wrong with being angry at the situation. Just remember, me – and all of your friends – right there with you. Be angry, but know that sometimes anger is confused with fear.

    And an acronym for fear that I have heard in the past is False Evidence Appearing Real. FEAR. Don’t let it get the best of you.

    A.

    • leftbreast says:

      Alex, your …? What?

      • leftbreast says:

        Alex, Duh. I’m such a WordPress newbie, I’ve just now read your whole comment. I’m so sorry about your Mom. It’s really difficult to respect a patient/parent’s wishes when you don’t agree. And I can understand your Mom’s desire to be “normal,” to just keep living as if nothing is going on. My mother reacted that way to my Dad’s cancer. She was talking about “bulking him up” with protein shakes days before he died, when he was as think as a skeleton. She could not accept that he was dying.

        Even though I’m spending a lot of time on this blog, I don’t want to want to talk about cancer all the time. BUT, I don’t want my friends and family to think the topic is off-limits. Sometimes, it’s exhausting to respond to everyone. But, at the end of the day, the connecting is a source of strength.

        Good for you for having the courage to do as your mother asked. And good for her for finding a source of strength.

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