I recently read an article about a movement to replace the phrasing of cancer from “battling (or fighting) cancer” to “journey with cancer.” It is a very well written and researched essay, and I thought I would offer an insightful analysis about my “battle/journey” and where I would land in the debate. A very intellectual response was to be forthcoming.
Then, as I was lying on the table receiving my 8th (out of 25) radiation treatment, it occurred to me, against the whirring of the machines, that neither word really captures what I am going through. A battle suggests I will win or lose and, before I do, there’s a lot of ugliness along the way. A journey evokes a more zen-like approach to defining my cancer, almost a feeling that I have to lean in to what’s going on; it is certainly a way of thinking that my Type A personality struggles with.
It occurred to me that instead of thinking of cancer as something that is cumulative, I need to think of each step through the process as its own individual “experience.” For example, even though a repetitive event, each day in the radiation waiting room is a new experience – different people, even different candy in the dish (today there was chocolate; that was new!). My visits to my doctor’s are always an experience – never know what they are going to say about my treatment plan this time! I see an experience as something you accept at the time it is happening; it requires putting my fears and anxiety aside and taking each thing that is happening to me as it happens. I find that much more emotionally manageable than believing there is some kind of end-point with ugliness in between and a result that could be positive or negative. It keeps my fears of the unknown at bay.
Cancer: The Experience. It kind of sounds like a Ken Burns PBS documentary, or perhaps an exhibit at a local science museum. It’s all semantics, I know, but for me looking at this as an experience has made each step more tolerable.