Although it is true that a cancer diagnosis changes a person in many positive and uplifting ways and can give you a larger appreciation for those around you, making you more philanthropic and positive, there is another, darker side to cancer as well. Having cancer in any form or stage makes you painfully aware of your own mortality. It makes you conscious of the fact that you will die someday.
The first time I realized I was going to die I was about 8 or 9 years old. I sat in the tiny den of our cape-style home on Mansfield Road. I had pulled our black lacquered rocking chair with its fake oriental markings nose-distance to our TV set with complete disregard to my mother’s warnings of macular ruination. I loved this chair because the mustard colored velour cushions moved with my bottom when I over-emphasized the rocking motion and when I was bored I would see how fast I could rock, secretly trying to rip the cushions away from their ties fastened to the spindles on the back.
I was watching “Gilligan’s Island” –the episode where the voo-doo witch doctors tie up Gilligan like a pig and try to smoke him over the fire. I was watching, and rocking and suddenly it became clear to me, like sand being swept away from an undiscovered fossil, I realized that we all die. I don’t know if Gilligan had anything to do with this realization — this thought had been there, I am sure, but for whatever reason that day, it was moved out front to my conscious level of thought and there it was for my psyche to dwell upon. We die. Everyone dies. The world goes on when we die, and we are no longer a part of daily activity. It scared the crap out of me because suddenly, I didn’t feel safe.
At that point my mother walked into the room and asked me why I was crying. I didn’t tell her. I couldn’t verbalize my thoughts at that time and ran from the room to hide upstairs in my bedroom. She didn’t follow me or try to discuss what was bothering me and that was the end of it for that day. But since then, whenever I think about dying, I become that little girl. I get very anxious and try to push the thoughts from my head because they seem far too overwhelming for me –even as an adult–to comprehend.
As soon as I was told that I had cancer, I was once agin visited by those scary thoughts that I had as a child, everything brought to the front of my mind again. I don’t like knowing that some day I will die. I don’t like that the older I get the closer I feel death’s presence in my life, breathing down my neck, laughing at me, checking his watch, biding his time. Because once again I don’t feel safe. My body has let me down and it continues to do so. I feel like now it’s a slow slide till the end and I will face a continuing parade of medical issues. I don’t trust that the cancer will stay away, I don’t trust that my heart will not fail, I don’t trust my body anymore.
I realize that is all a part of the aging process and it’s how most people feel as they become older and closer to the end of life, but I think that having cancer has quickened that process for me. I have been robbed of about 20 years of carefree feelings — because I did do everything I was told to guarantee a long and healthy life. I ate well, exercised daily, did not drink or smoke to excess, didn’t do drugs, and breast-fed my children. Yet, I still got cancer. That’s disconcerting. Life is safe and comforting when we know the formulas. A+B =AB…it shouldn’t equal C.
I wonder if we are the only species that recognizes their own mortality. Do dogs know they are going to die? I honestly don’t think they do–otherwise why would they be stupid enough to run in front of moving cars? Would we be better off not knowing? It’s probably why we fill our lives up with so much junk. Stay busy — don’t think.
There are days I wish to be that little girl again. To sit in that rocking chair and rock hard and fast until the world around me blurs and I don’t have to worry any more. There are many days recently I wish my mother were here again to put her arms around me and tell me that I will be ok, but I remember that she didn’t do it then, and can’t do it now. So I write it all down, and hope that it helps.