Tuesday, January 17, 2012

why the c-word?

i was at a holiday dinner party in the week between christmas and new year's eve.  it was a sparkling mix of brilliant people. everyone was jolly and rosy-cheeked from the cold and the company.

i turned to say something to the woman beside me and blanked out her name. so i said, "oh my god, i'm so sorry, it must be chemo brain!"

the hostess was an old friend who i absolutely adore for her bluntness and strong nature. she was looking very chic in a sort of tropical 60s' way. she said to me, "ameena - no cancer! this is a party! nothing depressing!"

i started laughing. "cancer isn't depressing! well, it shouldn't be."

oh wait. let's be honest, it is totally depressing when you first find out you have it.

it's horrid to have chemo and radiation and surgery. it's like any other illness or obstacle in the road. but the fact that it's possible to overcome it, to deal with it with grace and LIVE with it, is a powerfully positive thing.

also, the fact that cancer is an epidemic - that almost everyone i've ever met has a close friend or family member who's had one kind of cancer or another - means that we need to talk about it. we have to. imagine being ashamed of having the flu?

we have to bring it out in the open (and also talk about all the reasons why we are poisoning our environment and making ourselves sick).

i have two friends who've died of cancer in the last year. they were both so discreet about their struggle that i didn't even know they were sick til i got the invitations to their memorials. why wouldn't they talk about it?

because people are so scared of cancer, they might see you as a symbol of bad luck. one woman wrote about not wanting to tell people that she had cancer because she felt they wouldn't trust her afterwards. they might feel like she had gone to the dark side.  so she was very careful about how she divulged the information.

in my opinion, cancer cannot be - and must not be - voldemort (that villian in harry potter so evil he couldn't be named).

when i was having a chemo, a mom-friend of mine came over to visit with her daughter. she told me that in the late 60s, when her father got cancer, his friends just cut him off. for decades, they all used to have an annual summer barbeque together - maybe it was in the catskills, i can't remember - and when he got sick, they just didn't tell him or invite him.

she told me he was incredibly sad and hurt.

people were so scared of cancer that it was like the plague. they felt like it was contagious, that even acknowledging its existence, brought it closer.

in chinese medicine, they say that some kinds of cancer are the result of deep grief.

who knows if her father didn't die from a broken heart?

here's the most important thing i need to say:

cancer is not a death sentence.

it's really not. it's a chance to re-examine your life.
it's an opportunity to decide what you really want.
it's a reason to put yourself first for a little while.
it's a moment to reconnect with the people who matter to you.
it's a moment to get way healthier than you've ever been before.
it's also a way out, if you need one.

but whatever it is, it is not something you should go through alone.

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