What a bad trip it is … cancer. After seven years I have learned there is a lot of good company to be found among those of us who have survived the journey. I know because I have heard from some of them and have read about many of them, and I admire all of them for their capacity to retain their humanity in the face of insuperable odds. I am proud to be in their company.

Cancer is not unlike a blot on one’s escutcheon. It is a stain that soaks deep into the life that once was yours. It is nothing like paint. Paint lies on the surface and covers or masks what lies beneath, whereas a stain becomes part of one’s cellular structure and permeates whatever it touches.

Guts, grit, and determination litter the route to being a survivor. When the Big C takes the wheel, you hope a new persona will arrive to ride shotgun with you, helping to navigate the gnarly road ahead. You assure yourself you will become motivated to make every moment count and be kinder, more appreciative, and tolerant of the idiots that continue to populate your world. Your good behavior will be an asset, and will give direction and meaning to your journey. But I am here to tell you, all of that is a crock. Big C does not take direction from anybody. You, your more perfect self, google maps or Waze, are all useless. In fact, there is no roadmap at all. Really and truly, you are only along for the ride. So, buckle up and hang on.

Indeed, after all this time it is obvious that cancer did not turn me into a better person, with higher goals, meaningful aspirations, and newfound tolerance for stupidity. I am pretty much the same combination of crabby and considerate, reasonable and resentful. I am essentially the same old me. Instead, the changes I have experienced are much more abstract. They are related to living in a physically altered state, and how I perceive myself in relation to the rest of the world.

My cancer treatment caused significant alterations to my body, and I no longer trust it to function correctly. As a result, I now serve full time as a bodily-function inspector checking for malfunctions and breakdowns … Oh no! Is my gut supposed to be doing that? Check it out, was that a kidney failing? Whew, that is just a hot flash, right? Ouch! Normal pain or organ failure? … Constant physical vigilance seems necessary to avert disaster. Paranoia is my new sidekick, and he is not a really fun guy to have along.

I now constantly take notes and monitor any and all glitches that might be a symptom or a sign of a worse-case-scenario. I really hate being so hyper-aware of all things internal. It is really boring and time consuming. But then again, I am a world-class worrier and have had a lot of practice anticipating the worst. Cancer and its aftermath are, for a worrywart, a supercalafragalistically bad combination. It is not unlike the old fear-of-flying thing, where if you don’t worry about it, it will happen.

I guess my good doctor was correct after all when she said … “Not to worry.” Because while my cancer proved to be much more than a speed bump on the highway to good health, it turns out that worry … the mental baggage I carried … had no impact beyond sapping my energy and creating pot holes in the road to recovery. That being said, you will never quite convince me that my worry didn’t prevent a more catastrophic outcome … Just sayin.

However, above and beyond the worry, my encounter with cancer left me with a sense of separation from the rest of the world. I don’t know if this is normal for all cancer survivors, but I discovered an emotional rest stop within myself. During my treatment, surgery and recovery, I needed to detach myself from the constant physical distress, and found a secure center point from which I could observe, and interact with the world around me. It has proven to be a comfortable place to reflect on the how and the why of things, and is where I have found a new creative voice in writing. In a certain sense I see it as a gift left behind in the wake of The Big C’s careless driving, and disregard for life.

I have always been an observer … I suppose it is a part of being an artist … but this has a different flavor to it. It is as if while surviving cancer, my inner self bonded more strongly to this observation point. The position creates a personal space to reflect, and frame new objectives. The oasis provides a refuge that allows me to go forth with more assurance and less trepidation, and has enhanced my ability to create and relate to the world through words and images. But more than that, it has given me a new trust and assurance that my inner self has profound worth.

I no longer feel compelled to moderate my behavior to accommodate the agenda of others. Which is not to say I am uninterested in their goals and ambitions, but I needn’t follow others in order to move forward. I have learned to take the time to observe and weigh options and listen and cogitate … to act rather than to re-act. Whereas in the past a lack of confidence might have caused me to second guess myself, I now recognize that my life has a unique value. My life is a story, it is my narrative. I am an individual construction, made up of all the decisions I have made, and all that I have done. To place a lesser value on my life is a colossal waste. No one else can live my life. No one else can tell my story. No one else is able to paint what is in my mind’s eye.No one else will see the world as I see it ever again … so don’t waste time … get it done.

Tick tock … tick tock.

16 Replies to “BYE BYE”

    1. I really gave it some thought, and decided to go with the one with fewer letters to type. It really was the only thing I could think of to use as a rationale. Bossy paranoia really has no gender.

  1. Loved this piece, so much I could identify with. I never know if my aches and pains are a result of my vast age or the radiotherapy and other horrors. But when I read of the God awful things folk have to endure their entire lives, it seems churlish to complain about my waterworks and other unmentionables. I am a coward now— did not used to be — so I try to avoid doctors at all cost. Two weeks ago I was mislead into thinking I was terminally ill. I went into a uncharacteristic panic until the mistake was clarified at the emergency dept. As a result of those two days of abject terror I did manage to tidy signicant amounts of rubbish and clean my silver. I should hate to snuff it surrounded by tarnished silver! A big hug Dorothy Boyer

    1. Oh Dorothy, I am so relieved to know I am not alone in being frantically busy when terrified. But so sorry you had such a scare.
      I always blame my aches and pains on scar tissue left inside from 7 years ago. The doctor says one can not have scars on organ tissue, but obviously he has no idea what he is talking about, because otherwise the cause would be my couch potato approach to fitness. The nice thing is that my friends all tolerate my leaks and decrepitude. Hugs from me.

  2. Oh, I really feel that tick tock! Gender aside, paranoia is a bully, worry is a waste, and cancer is a bitch. But time? Well, time is both relentless and precious. Speaking of precious, I’m glad you haven’t changed!!

    1. Oh Roger, thanks for your response. I find it ironic that time wasted is sometimes the most precious. But then again I am so happy that you are spending your time indulging in a grand adventure. I love reading about your life in the mysterious East.

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