Saturday, October 15, 2011


“Cancer,” said a friend much wiser than I will ever be, “is the cancer of society.” This is an undeniable truth, one that I’ve been wrestling with and against. I am now entertaining the possibility that an epiphanette has occurred, though I am not entirely certain. Epiphanettes are slippery things, metaphorical eels though thankfully without the slime, so here it is: Cancer does not have to define me.

Long ago I stopped defining myself as a former user of drugs and an abuser of alcohol. I no longer do it, and while no 12-step program would ever say I am cured, I don’t find it necessary when meeting new people to qualify myself.

Lately, I’ve been encountering quite a few folks who call themselves ‘cancer survivors,’ and I must admit, the label bugs me. I am already an appendicitis and tonsil removal survivor, as well as an umbilical hernia survivor.  I have endured a deviated septum operation. I’ve also had bouts with Bell’s palsy, shoulder surgery, food poisoning, allergic reaction, a serious infection that required my being hooked to an IV for three days straight, and shingles. I have, I am happy to announce, survived all these ills and maladies, as well as two marriages, the deaths of parents, of a sibling and friends.

My other difficulty with the term is that it makes a scary disease even more frightening. I’m already terrified; that fire is burning hot enough without my stoking it. And lastly, what does it add to my life, to the definition of who I am?

At this very moment, cancer is a stain. I feel fouled and unclean, somehow marked. I can almost sense tainted blood coursing. It surprises me that others do not immediately recognize this corruption.

So that’s the next challenge, a greater degree of acceptance that this is what it is, no more or less. I’ll get there but it may take a while. In the meantime, I’m avoiding the survivor moniker and showering twice a day…

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