Ever since I received this diagnosis, I have been feeling like a fraud. Cancer? Cancer means sickness and oozing, smelliness and hair falling out. That’s not me. I’m young and healthy (knock on wood). I feel like a fraud walking through the halls of the cancer clinic. I know I look good. I am not being vain; it’s the truth. I have all my hair. I’m thin. I’m attractive. I dress well. I just don’t look like a cancer patient should look, or feel like a cancer patient should feel. Yes, that’s my judgment, but it makes me feel like I don’t have the right to call myself cancer’s victim. My therapist asked if my feeling like a fraud is a way to feel safe. I told her it does not. And I wasn’t lying. I’m in therapy because of all the other shit I’ve been through, and being in a relationship that pushes my buttons to the brink. Cancer? Cancer is cakewalk. And who would ever dream someone could say those words?
Notes from my journal, January 15, 2007
I consider myself a fraudulent cancer patient. Oh, I’ve received admonishments from well-meaning souls who seek to validate my cancer experience. They see my description as a minimizing of what I was going through. It’s cancer, they reason. Go ahead, feel terrible, frightened, awestruck! You know…all those emotions one is supposed to feel upon being diagnosed and treated for cancer.
I tell them that I’m really actually doing fine emotionally. Really, I am. They look at me sideways, a knowing glint. “Oh, you’ll see,” the looks say, as if I’m deluding myself, as if I’m in denial.
Well, sorry. I’m months past the last radiation treatment now and none of those emotions have burst forth from their hiding places waiting to be expressed. I’m pretty in touch with my emotions and I can honestly say, I don’t think any of those emotions are in there hiding.
I don’t think this is such an abnormal reaction. Of course, I say this in the context of everything else I experienced last year. For some reason, life thought to teach me not to sweat the small stuff. And apparently it has deemed cancer enough of a small stuff in the scheme of things.
I thought about when life began teaching me not to sweat the small stuff and I realized that life has been trying to teach me that lesson for some time now. Last year gave me some really wretched experiences, perhaps because life wanted me to get it once and for all as I was obviously not getting it well enough in the years leading up to this last one. By the time cancer came around, my version of it certainly seemed like it was not worth sweating over.
So I consider myself a fraudulent cancer patient. Going through surgery and radiation was exhausting, but it hurt less than a root canal. I was exhausted, but work, parenting, life is exhausting. If I were offered cancer the way I had it over the other experiences of this year, I would take that offer in a heartbeat, no hesitation.
Cancer. The word portends heartbreak and doom. Wear a ribbon, run a race, find a cure. Now! I absolutely agree.
But it is not always that way. Sometimes cancer is a blip. Catch it early. Make it go away. It really can be that simple.
It is my hope that perhaps one woman in the world will read my story and decide not to wait to get a mammogram because of her subconscious fear that the mammogram will show cancer. If one person catches her cancer as early as I did and makes it go away as easily as I did, then my purpose is served.
I want women to know that cancer can be less than heartbreak and doom. It can be less than vomiting and hair loss and bloating. It is possible for it to be less painful than a root canal. Come to think of it, I want all people to know this, not just women. It does not have to be breast cancer, it can be anything that can be taken care of early if caught in time.
I asked my radiation oncologist if all cancer were caught as early as I caught my breast cancer, would their experience be the same? He said that of the cancers for which we have a screening process, when they are caught early, they are fairly easy to treat. Of course, easy is defined on a spectrum in comparison to what could be. But the point is that cancer does not have to be a death knell.
More on my cancer experience can be found here.