I’m happy I don’t have cancer.
Obviously. Pretty much everyone without cancer is, when it crosses their minds, happy that they don’t have cancer. People with relatives who have gone through this ordeal are happy when their nearest and dearest no longer have cancer. Doctors and nurses are happy when their patients no longer have cancer. People in remission are ecstatic they don’t have cancer.
I’ve been tested for cancer many times. The results have been negative. I’ve been overjoyed each time.
Yet there is a whisper in that hisses out from dark corners of the message boards. An insidious little suggestion from someone, somewhere, that curls like smoke through the atmosphere of places dealing with rare diseases and undiagnosed conditions. Even the miscreant thought that crosses my mind as I shiveringly wait for my test. If it is cancer, then there are treatments. There are support groups. People know what cancer is; it is the weapon of choice of screenwriters for ridding themselves of unwanted relatives in movies and TV shows, after all. Sandwich shops have donation days, when so much of a percentage of the money you spend is donated to cancer research or a local hospital. There are walks, boxes to drop loose change in, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and awareness billboards. Cancer is practically a brand. And isn’t that just a horrifying thought.
But then comes the rhetoric. If I have cancer, I’m branded as a “warrior,” a “fighter.” There is this belief that attitude is everything. Someone who dies of cancer is euphemistically referred to as someone who has “lost the fight.” The trouble is this is happening in the same culture that believes that failures are learning opportunities. If you lost the fight, it implies that had you tried a little harder, trained a little better, believed in yourself more… maybe you could have won.
This is a herculean burden to place on anyone. There are other articles talking about the strain of putting positive material – and only positive material – on social media sites, or on blogs like this one. Now imagine being miserably, horrifically ill, and somehow having those expectations of the importance of positivity increased tenfold. If you aren’t thinking positively, you aren’t really trying to win, now, are you?
There are so many cancer awareness months, weeks, and days that unless I post this in December, it will overlap with one of these events. So think about it on whatever cancer awareness day this is – the magnitude of a disease that is so pervasive it is stamped this firmly on the calendar. Think of how many different people will be affected. Think of how many will not inherently be Suzie Sunshine or Peter Positivity types of personalities, and remember that there is so much more than just a good attitude that goes into treating any condition. To frame this as a “fight” that a good attitude can win is unrealistic, putting a massive burden on those sick, and a horrific weight on those left to explain to a small child that their mommy lost a fight, as if had she just loved them a little more, she might have won fought harder and won like in most family (or sports) movies.
Instead, after the tests are once again over, I am relegated back to the corner of shame reserved for those with rare and/or undiagnosed diseases. Although there aren’t usually months dedicated to fighting for us zebras, or unicorn-pegasus hybrids, neither is there a rhetoric of eternal positivity being thrust upon me either. Oh, yes, it happens, but not nearly at the same level as the friends I have that did end up getting a positive diagnosis on those days. I fight for awareness instead. Perhaps for me, that is a better fight. To those stuck in this corner, though, quietly wishing for a condition that was even just known by doctors and nurses at the ER – wishing for cancer – I understand. To those that find themselves instead faced with a cancer diagnosis, I wish you the best of care and quick remission, and I won’t demand that you somehow turn into someone else, begin breaking weightlifting records, or train for the Olympics because you now have cancer.
I wish you all strength and healing, and peace from those senseless demands that bring neither. And for myself, I’m happy that once again, I don’t have cancer.