The good fight?

Recovery is like a game of psychological warfare.

Physically, I’m doing very well. I’m in some discomfort, but when I stay on top of it, the Percocet really does take the edge off.

But emotionally — it’s hard. My mind goes places it shouldn’t. I think about how I have CANCER, and I don’t even know for sure that this elaborate surgery, this carving me up and putting me back together, has gotten rid of the cancer. Even if the pathology comes back clean, how will I ever know for sure that the cancer isn’t still there?

I chose the most aggressive treatment, I have opted to do everything possible to rid my body of this disease, but what I know from experience, from watching family and friends fight their own battles, is that it does come back. It moves into the bones and the lungs and the brain and it comes back. Maybe a year from now, or 5, or even 10 years from now. It comes back.

Doctors talk a lot about statistics. About survival rates and how so many women are outliving this diagnosis. But I wonder what those statistics look like when it comes to secondary cancers. I can’t torture myself. I don’t want to know. It’s enough to know that those mutant cells are freaking genius — they find a new place to rest, to rebuild, to make a stand. And the cancer comes back.

The language surrounding cancer is that of war. Be strong. Be brave. Fight. We are warriors. We do battle with modern medicine and a positive attitude. We follow the wisdom of the tribe and give up sugar and processed foods. We exercise. But if the cancer comes back does that mean we didn’t try hard enough? That we didn’t believe in our power to beat this? Is it our fault?

That’s the problem with the metaphors. The mindset that speaks to “beating” cancer. The truth is, we can do everything right and it can still come back. All it takes is a single rogue cell.

I read recently that most invasive ductal carcinomas are in the body for up to 8 years before they can be seen on an MRI or a mammogram. Eight years. I think about how this cancer staked its claim on me, how it could have been there all along and I didn’t know it. I did what I was supposed to. I had yearly mammograms and sonograms. All my screenings were up to date, I never lapsed. I have had yearly physicals and blood tests. I did my job. But I got cancer anyway. Maybe I’m not a good enough warrior. Maybe I ate too many Lean Cuisines and snacked on too many Oreos. Maybe I fucked up.

There is a part of me that needs to believe this is random. That it isn’t my fault. That I am a warrior strong enough and brave enough to beat this. But there are those metaphors again. The ones that are supposed to inspire us and get us all fired up to wage war on our bodies.

How I envy those people who are capable of simply giving it up to God: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. My emotional well-being is all over the place. I go from feeling strong and hopeful to defeated and weak in the blink of an eye. I need to write out the ugly. Put my fears on the page. Not to solicit advice or encouragement, but to banish them from the dark recesses of my mind. It’s like turning on a light in the attic. You only see ghosts in the dark.

And then I feel guilty. I’m not grateful enough. Others have it far worse. I am here, I am alive, I am healing and I have no right to complain, no right to turn the light on the ghosts and the demons that haunt me because I am alive. And the only correct response to being here is one of gratitude.

I need permission to stop being brave or strong or a warrior every minute of every day. I need to know it’s okay to be weak. That it’s okay to feel my loss. But I don’t know how to do that without feeling guilty for feeling bad. When I waver, I feel like I’m taking everyone else down with me, that I’m not doing my part to keep my team battle ready. No one wants to fight for the girl who isn’t willing to lead the charge.

I don’t know what the answer is. I guess some days will be better or worse than others. I need to live within the uncertainty, find my place on the line separating loss and hope.

I can’t be a brave cancer fighter every day, and that’s just going to have to be okay.


10 thoughts on “The good fight?

  1. This is one of the most remarkable stances on life and living and fighting and resolve I’ve ever experienced. Actually is THE most remarkable stance I’ve ever experienced. It captures the essence of my own considerations of my floppy and flimsy heart…my fear that I am responsible for my current flawed state of health. And my resolve to help you AND me survive, help you get well and provide for my son. Know this: Your words are SO powerful. Your words are “customized prayer” if I my quote a brilliant guru. Love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. K, I’m glad that you write. I’m glad that you’re alive. That you’re aware of being a warrior. And that you know you can lay low sometimes…Perhaps our lives don’t have the final drafts written yet. Perhaps we get to craft and revise them somewhat as we go along. N

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Give yourself some love…. Take a deep breath…this roller coaster evolves everyday.. This is just for today.. Everything you feel is honest, & it’s wonderful you write, it’s
    a place for all of your emotions to go. By putting pen to paper it takes it just a bit farther from your brain…this is a good thing!! 😘❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are allowed to feel everything you feel. All of it is valid and seems to me as an outsider that it is a part of the process. Keep writing, keep feeling and processing. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your depression and fear are normal after such a life changing experience. There is no reason to feel guilty. No one expects you to be a hero. Allow yourself permission to grieve, but also don’t over think, or make yourself a statistic. I always have to remind myself to live for today, we have no control over tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t stand war talk when disease is mentioned — I really can’t. And I’m entirely sold on some of the more alternative women’s cancer groups that eschew it and all the romance of being a warrior. I think you will live and write through all of this. Remember what Patti Smith said, “I would go as far as I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations. And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple. When you hit a wall, just kick it in.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. …the gamut of emotions experienced requires, no demands, that we respond honestly and with realism that can frighten some. go ahead and throw a tantrum~buy and then shatter a few 99 cent plates…eat a gallon of sorbet…watch a sappy movie and cry the whole way through…any number of these will allow you to breathe again. allowing yourself the the right to bend does not mean you are broken, but that you are strong enough to be “weak” when the time is called for…


  8. Kristen, I have been reading your blog and thinking about you everyday. This particular blog stuck a chord with me. I remember going through brain surgery thinking the Sam as you; did I do enough in my life to avoid this. I came up with the same answer. Obviously not. Then I got the same sentiments from others; someone else is worse off then you. Yet I was the one with 20 staples in my head. Don’t ever feel guilty that you are feeling angry, sorry for yourself. It’s all part of the healing. You deserve every moment of happiness and sadness. A day will come and the happiness will outshine the pain. Thinking of you and praying too. Chiarina

    Liked by 1 person

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