I have to be honest: it’s been a conscious effort to think about cancer recently. Not that I’m complaining, who the heck wants to think about cancer all the time? Who knew it could be so easy? I love being back at the office. I am so busy on any given day that I don’t have a second to think about what’s going on inside my body. The pain is under control, scan results are good. Bring on the denial, baby!
There’s this really odd space where you know you have cancer, but things are going along so well that you think everything is fine. Indeed, so fine that it will stay that way. It’s a false sense of security. But what’s really odd about it is that it is a conscious false sense of security. I know it’s bullshit, but I keep thinking it anyway. Not a smart move.
I read the sad news that Lisa Lynch, author of the blog Alright Tit, died last week. I read that with a heavy heart because I had just found her blog not very long ago and was making my way through her story. Something she wrote resonated with me when she told her readers about her new found metastasis.
. . . this cannot be cured, but it CAN be managed. So here’s some good news. In terms of my prognosis, we’re not talking months, but years: hopefully lots of them. . . . And here’s some more good news: there is NO spread to my organs. Hence I’m told that there are plenty of things we can do to keep my pain to a bare minimum, to keep the dots [bone lesions] at bay, and to ensure me a very good quality of life.
Two years later she was gone, the cancer having spread to her brain. Lisa’s description of her bone metastasis was just like the one I was feeding to my friends, to my family, and to myself. I read on one discussion board after the other how women will say “at least it’s in my bones and not my organs.” Really? Last time I looked our bones were organs; not the soft and squishy organs we associate with death by metastasis, but an organ just the same. Your blood feeds that bone as much as it feeds our liver, our lungs, our brains, and the rest of our bodies. What, we think cancer cells will bypass or otherwise give up their stand as long as they’re living in Bonetown?
I wish I could find the discussion board on which I read this, but one person actually said that she had two lesions in her bones (I forgot where) and her doctor was adamant that this could be cured. Someone stepped in and called horse manure, but the point was reiterated. It was only in her bone and the doctor was sure that she could be cured. You can read in the statements of so many people how they are relieved that cancer is just in the bone. That it hasn’t spread to any organs.
When my surgeon first told me that it had spread to the bone he also gave me the same line Lisa had been told: it could not be cured it could be managed. And he went on to relate a story of a woman in his practice who has survived well into a decade. She was fine! Oh, one time she had a cough, but they gave her a pill and it went away. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had cancer in my spine, so I wasn’t ready to look up from my hands and wonder aloud just how much more bullshit I could take in one office visit. He printed out the report for me and once I read it I learned (as I rode the bus home–around 72nd street to be exact) that I not only had cancer in the bone, but lesions in both lungs, and lymph nodes in the medistinum and right axilla. Jeez, Doc, think you missed a few things?
What’s with the rosy glasses and the “it can be managed” line? How many people hear that (me) and hope they’ve got another decade ahead of them (me, Lisa Lynch, whomever else). Yeah, sure it can be managed. Half manage to stay alive for an average of 36 months, the other half–well who knows when they eventually drop off the chart. Even my wonderful oncologist Dr. Raptis, when he told me the mean survival rate, balanced that with the statement that I was responding well to therapy and that was a good sign. I love the man, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a good sign that I’m responding to Tamoxifen. These ovaries are going to shut down at some point and then what? (Though maybe I could get estrogen therapy to keep them working. It’s not like I have to worry about getting breast cancer. )
So with that as a backdrop, is it any wonder why I love that I am so busy every single day so I don’t have to dwell on the fact that I have breast cancer? Cancer is kind of like my shadow: I can never get rid of it. Its connection to me is seamless. And most of the time I am never even aware that it exists until it blocks my view and distorts what I am trying to see.
This is why, when it comes to my diagnosis, I want to keep the sun in my face. I like to be busy enough so that I don’t obsess over the cancer, but I don’t want any stories shellacked with layers of happy platitudes and positive spin so that I don’t lose sight of the seriousness of what it is that I have. Believe me, I don’t want to see that shadow, though I know that someday it will be right in front of me blocking the rest of my life.