Friday, February 10, 2012

Twisted Path

I don't know why cancer hijacked my life three times.

I have pondered the question ad nauseam and on any given day can tell you that "there's a reason for everything," or that "%$@# happens" or both or neither.

I don't have a family history of cancer, I've always eaten on the healthier side (I actually liked broccoli as a kid) and have always been an active person. Ironically, each time I was diagnosed I was otherwise Healthy -- yes, definitely Captain Healthy with a capital H for emphasis.

And throughout these three episodes, the only thing that ever made me "sick" was the treatment to rid me of the lethal disease. That's one of the reasons why the term "hijacked" seems so appropriate.

Being sick, being a patient, spending hours and hours and hours in Doctors' offices, putting medication and chemicals in my system..... none of these things were ever on my radar or even on the most remote edges of any wishes, desires, dreams and/or plans I might have had for my life. The notion of a hand of cards makes some sense. I have been dealt some terrible ones.

It's complicated. I've had cancer three times--three primaries, i.e., each one brand new from scratch--but each time it was caught early. That's considered lucky.

But having a body that allowed tumors to form--that's not lucky. And having to go through treatment to remove it and prevent it from spreading, that's not lucky either. State of the art** treatment is still a brutal combination of Slash, Burn and Poison (surgery, radiation and chemotherapy), aka Torture. I consider it Barbaric.

Then again, being diagnosed early, having the most outstanding medical team, having access to treatment, that's lucky because it has now literally saved my life three times.

Surviving cancer as a young woman is lucky, but it's also "unlucky" because you have to live with the aftershocks and the uncertainty (will it come back?). And on and on it goes. As I said, it's complicated.

Having to stop your life to fight cancer--talk about a source of anger and frustration. But I know I have grown and learned and continue to do so because of it.

I know that the lessons are about things like acceptance, surrender, and the true meaning and purpose of inner strength amongst other Big Life Questions.

Cancer has been a catalyst for my examination of these concepts over the past 15 years, and I realize now that they have been in and around my consciousness for as long as I can remember.

I never wanted to be sick, but I have always wanted to understand life. What a twisted path.

--Thanksgiving, 2009: written about a month after my last round of chemo.

By The Way: I don't consider cancer to be a "gift," and I don't use the words "acceptance" and "surrender" lightly!

**I wrote this in 2009. Since then I have learned a lot about genetics and targeted treatments (such as Herceptin for the subset of Her2Neu positive breast cancers) that don't compromise your entire system, and the research that is being done in that area. I highly recommend the incredible Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddartha Mukherjee for a comprehensive history of cancer, the "War on Cancer" and great insight as to where research is headed.

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