Sunday, March 12, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0108 - Cancer isn't me

Lance Armstrong called his cancer The Bastard. I identify with that impulse. As I said to one of the many oncology nurses I've come to know, I'm reluctant to say things like "I've got cancer, " or "I have cancer," because it seems to imply that cancer is part of my identity somehow. While that might be true in a very simplistic sense, it's not true existentially. My ego, my self sense, has no place in it whatsoever for cancer. Cancer is not blood of my blood, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. It truly is The Bastard.

It might be here with me right now, but I'm fighting it. I'm doing what I can to rid my body of it completely. I'm enlisting all the medical support I can to do one thing - destroy this thing entirely.

It's like that new commercial on TV these days about Cancer Centers of America. Their slogan is Winning the fight against cancer every day. The commercial has a man talking in very specific terms. "I went in one hour from 'you have no chance' to 'we have a team here that will provide you with with lots of hope'." From that point on in the commercial, the language is almost entirely martial - the fight, the battle.

These American cancer centers are very explicit about employing something called integrative care. Part of that care is a deep respect for spirituality. So the question becomes, "How do spirituality and military language work together?" Well, the short answer is "They just do." The longer answer is that spirituality is about the real person, the self concept, that part of identity in which cancer has no place, whether you call that part the soul, spirit, God, transcendence - whatever. Cancer has no place, either in self-descriptive language or self-concept. It's illegitimate.

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Anonymous said...

Dear Don:
I have just finished reading this recent blog and the ones beyond. I too can say that "cancer" should be called the Bastard. It has taken so many I loved and cared for. The most recent person was my sister Beth. Beth had already gone through so much medically with other health concerns. I imagine John told you about the brain surgery she had that was unnecessary and took her sensation away on her left side. She had had numbness in her left foot and some in her hand. The Dr. thought it was a tumour but when she was opened up there was no tumour. The tissue was not normal however so instead of doing a small biopsy, he took the whole thing. It was MS tissue that should never have been disturbed. She was told she would never have developed severe MS. So she faught to regain motility and went way beyond anyones expectations in that recovery. She was strong willed and determined.

Then a polyp went haywire in her cervix. She had been having these removed regularly and she knew how important it was to have them removed. But she got caught up with her other health concerns, and 3 years later it was too late.

I saw my sister go through this battle with the Bastard, and the first 2 1/2 years were a miracle at how well she did. For her though her time was coming, but she was given a lot of precious time: she saw her daughter married and went on some really fantastic trips. She wasn't in any pain until near the end. She made Peace with John, which I feel was the most important thing to herself and John.
Beth had been such a wanderer most of her life. Many of her jobs took her away from her family months or even a few years at a time. Beth rearranged her priorities and her family became her primary focus.

It was hard for her to give up her control and ask for help with her MS and her illness. Beth was always so independant. It caused her emotional pain and frustration at times Don, but I think she met her humaness and learned to embrace it most times.

As family members and to one that was caught early with this disease, we would like to wrench out this Bastard: but we can't and often feel helpless. To me Don in my reading and experiencing it in a minor way, it seems to me cancer is treated like a pregnancy. Our body doesn't recognize it as foreign, it even supplies it with a blood system. That is one of the areas they are doing a lot of research on right now. Let's get rid of this blood system and the cells that do this, and the cancer will die or not grow. Sounds great to me.
The only other comment I have on a blog you wrote a while ago is about Dr. Hause. Gary and I watch that show faithfully Don. It is true that on this show patients aren't honest, or they forget to give dr. Hause important information that would assist him. However Don it is a show: and I believe most people are happy to give the right information or the "truth" in order to assist the Dr. in the diagnosis. I don't think most diagnoses are like playing roulette Don, as it seems on this show. Most illnesses have clear cut symptoms. It is the rare ones that can cause a real query and cause many tests to be done. Also I don't believe you are lying about how you feel or your own inward struggle. These are your true feelings Don: you are doing deep soul searching, and many are too afraid to even do this. It is too scary to see the real you. We sang Just As I Am today at church and the tears just flowed from me. I was even going to phone and tell you we were having a healing service today. I went up for annointing not for physical reasons, but emotional as I struggle with unemployment still. It just causes so much pain. All I want to do is provide for me and my family. God knows who we are warts and all and loves us anyway.

As far as the results of you lymph node assessment goes, the treatment will be very different if there are no cancer cells found, or in just 1 or 2 or many. When I went to the cancer clinic the Dr. showed me a pictoral picture of cancer cells and the stages they go through before they become cancerous. Mine were atypical ( abnormal) and large: but not cancer yet. When they become cancerous the nucleus becomes so weird that it can't even be identified. So that is why they want a good look at the lymph nodes. Of course the lymph nodes are where cancer cells go when they are trying to reach out elsewhere. Your tests you had recently sound so promising Don. My mother-in-law, my aunt and my uncle all died from bowel cancer. My mother-in-law was the only one who had any treatment: chemo only. It had mestastized. My uncle and aunt had it discovered way too late. I wish they had had this new way to treat it at that time. I am glad you are going to Hope Spring. My best friend died of breast cancer but her and her family went there for hope and encouragement. I sent her a flier on this I found at our church.

Ken Hull became a new grandpa yesterday. Dianne had her first baby. It was a boy. Nice to hear the good things too eh Don?

Love and May God Bless,

Don Spencer said...

Thanks so much for your comments and reflections, Roberta. John has indeed told me something of what Beth went through.

These stories mean a great deal to me. They encourage me, even though the end result isn't always what we want. It is the affirmation of life in the face of death, I guess. It is the refusal to be defined by the cynicism of cancer.

Lance put it this way, "I knew now why people fear cancer: because it is a slow and inevitable death, it is the very definition of cynicism and loss of spirit." - p.114.

Sometimes, too, we see that those with the will to live do not always win the physical battle, those it is clear to me that they have won the spiritual battle. Again from Lance,

"I've seen wonderful, positive people not make it in the end," Dr. Einhorn said. "And some of the most miserable, ornery people survive to resume their ornery lives." - p.123

I intend both to win my battle, and to be somone who knows what Ken is feeling these days as a grandfather. In fact, at first diagnosis, when death seemed to be smiling right at me, part of my sense of loss was the apprehension that I might not be around to see my boys start their own families, to dance at their weddings, to hold my own grandchildren in my arms and take them to their sporting events and lessons, to babysit, to recall raising our own children with my wife in our old age. I want those things, Roberta.

I really think I'll have the chance to enjoy them some day.