Life as a Cancer Survivor


I’m emerging from been sick with the stomach flu over the past couple of days.  This morning I got out of bed and sat in front of my computer with my morning coffee and began to play computer games as I’ve been doing for the past year.  I found myself thinking, “I feel like doing SOMETHING….  something more productive than sitting here playing games.”

I got up and walked around the house, looking at all of the things the house still needs: the front foyer, where my disabled, and finally dying dog essentially lived for his last 3 years.  This spot bore the brunt of uncontrolled diarrhea, poop, and pee bouts and mounds of shedded fur along with all of the miscellaneous things balls of fur seem to collect.  I did a cursory cleaning when we cleared his soiled bedding after he died last fall, but it has yet to be thoroughly swept and vacuumed.

I looked at the hallway which hasn’t been cleaned in at least four years since my mother lived with us.

I looked at the kitchen which always seems to be more like one of those fur balls — getting larger and larger every day, collecting miscellaneous things.

Then, in the Buddhist way, I noticed myself noticing these things.  Is it because I’m feeling the post-sickness sense of well-being, or is it because my antidepressant is finally kicking in? It’s unusual for me to “feel like doing something” (more with my life) than playing computer games.

As I sit here musing over my sudden sense of wanting to be productive, I wonder for the millionth time if chemotherapy permanently destroys brain cells and if I need to acknowledge that I can never be a sane human being without antidepressants.

It’s a funny state, this being a cancer survivor.  You go through losing body parts to the scalpel, being drugged up, going through brief moments of amazing highs followed by plunges into hopeless voids.  Your journey is lonely, because no one else is allowed to go with you to stand before that door of death.

After all of that, one day you’re kicked out of treatments and the world tells you that you’ve come out the other side and the world is back to normal.  You deny chronic pain, deny depression, deny that you’re a different person; because everyone tells you you’re not supposed to feel any of those things.  You feel awkward and alienated from the rest of the world because while the rest of the world is afraid of terrorists without, you no longer know nor trust your own body — it is your personal terrorist.  And you can never talk about this with anyone, because no one wants to hear you whining.  When people tell you “congratulations, you’re a survivor!”  what they really mean is, “now *I* can go about my life and stop stressing out about you, so let’s move past this, PLEASE.”

One of the things that Reginald Ray said in Mahamudra for the Modern World is that (I paraphrase) no one can get into your skin and live your life for you.  The Buddhist journey is all about discovering your own personal and unique path.

It’s difficult to have the freedom to discover my own uniqueness, I’ve lived under the shadows of the world’s expectations for so much of my life.  Even my rebellion against it all has also been an expression of living under the shadows, because I’m not removing the shadows, I’m reacting to them.

So the slow and painful journey of learning to live life as a human continues…

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Life as a Cancer Survivor

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