A few months ago, while I was in the midst of chemotherapy, I was driving home with the convertible roof down. I wore a scarf to cover my bald head. As I waited for the light to change, I heard someone shout “Excuse me!” to my right. I turned to see a man a little older than I behind the wheel of a huge one-ton pickup truck. He called to me.
“Are you a survivor?”
I thought for a split second. “Still fighting!”
“You’ll beat it. I did, and you will too.” He smiled and gave me a thumbs-up.
I thanked him as the light turned green, and we both went on our way.
I hear constantly that I am a cancer “fighter.” What a picture: strong, defiant, in control. I don’t feel especially strong, just lucky at how I’m getting through this with so few problems. I am certainly not in control, but I learned some time ago that control is an illusion anyway. Defiant? You bet. I’ll own that one. I am not going gently into that good night. I visualize and pray about healing completely, and I’m making long-term plans.
To be a cancer fighter is actually a passive role: one simply walks from one appointment to the next, waiting only for what the next test reveals, and undergoing treatment as best one can. I can’t say that I’m fighting. Fighting entails facing one’s fears by making choices that entail risk. Cancer treatment certainly has its risks, but it’s not like I have much choice. I’m just walking a path so many have walked before me, many who say “me too” from further down the trail. We have in common the experience of treatment and emotional setbacks and fatigue. Some are fighters, I suppose, but I feel less like a soldier than simply one who soldiers on.
When will I take the title of “survivor?” I’m still in treatment, so I don’t feel I’ve earned it. Technically, as long as I’m alive I’m a survivor. But the term puts everything else in past tense, and I can’t do that yet. I’m not sure when that will happen. As my appearance approaches “normal” again, people will forget I’m in treatment or recovery. They won’t mean to, but it will happen. Normal is good. I can’t wait to feel the same way.
While life continues in its natural rhythms, my cadence follows the beat of cancer. Everything I see, do and feel is experienced through the filter of cancer. Only after my positive prognosis did I begin to hear other music, and it’s lovely. It’s the music of living.