Wednesday, June 18, 2008

always playing catch-up

The local American Cancer Society's Relay for Life was held a couple of weeks ago.

I went again this year, just as I have gone for the previous five years.

I gave Relay heavy coverage in the paper and shared the courageous stories of the survivors. Two years ago I received my cancer diagnosis a few days before the big event. My surgery followed a few weeks later.

It was hot and steamy all afternoon during that Relay. The enormity of it all hung sticky in the air, clinging to me, making my limbs heavy. Every motion, every emotion, every reaction was a great effort.

I was solemn that night as I walked around the track, lined with luminaries lit in honor of a survivor or in memory of someone who had "lost the fight."

I mourned for those who'd passed and I celebrated those who still lived. And I thought it odd so few of us, healthy or cancerous, could never set ourselves apart enough to realize that we are all dying from the moment we are born.

I was afraid, mostly at how much it would hurt (and cost) to take care of this cancer problem.

I thought often of the number of survivors I had interviewed over the years, including those who, soon after, lost their fight with cancer. Every one of them was me. Or at least could be. I had always thought that way, even long before my diagnosis. I'm cursed with a strong empathy that allows me to put myself in almost anyone's shoes and try on their life for a bit. I guess that's why I was always able to tell their stories.

During the time surrounding the Relay a year ago, I had recovered from the surgery, which had been quite a shock to my psyche, my marriage was drowning and I had learned that more invasive surgery was needed to fix the problem. But oh yea, that might not work either.

So anyway, I went again this year, having decided not to have any more invasive surgery (invasive meaning where they remove parts of me) until such time as is absolutely necessary. It's a quality of life thing. (I could also say the fact that I'm still smoking is a quality of life thing too, but simple fact is, I'm addicted and weak.)

A friend asked how I was doing to which I replied, "oh just fine. I feel great as long as I'm not going to doctors."

She immediately began morphing into her "mom" zone and asked when I had last been to the doctor.

"I had a sinus infection about a month ago...oh you mean the oncologist?" I blushed, sufficiently ashamed and admitted that I had no idea. "I've pretty much just been ignoring it and it's not really bothering me."

She clucked my name and gave me the stern "mom" look that made me duck my head and promise to follow up with someone.

That's the shitty thing about having cancer. No one will ever let you ignore the fact that you're going to die. Well duh! We're all going to die. And quite frankly I have no desire to butcher myself (and go broke) in order to live.

But, I suppose if most days I choose to ignore the fact I have cancer, I really should at least be responsible in my ignorance and let a professional check me out to make sure there's no need to ring the alarm bells and summon the surgeon.

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