I wrote this in June of 2013. A lot has changed since then, notably my feelings about progression. A lot has stayed the same, too. I recently reacted strongly to an episode of Call the Midwife that featured breast cancer. It made me remember this post.

Have you noticed how many television shows and movies have a cancer theme these days? And how many of them deal with breast cancer? And how uplifting and inspirational they are, as a rule?

In order to keep the shows so relentlessly positive, of course, they don’t show much metastatic cancer. I did see a British TV show (a comedy-drama series) the other day that had a lady with metastatic cancer in one episode. This lady, thinking she had a year left to live, offered the visiting nurse coffee. The nurse took a sip and, “This has whiskey in it!”

“Brandy, actually,” the lady replied. “One advantage of dying is that you get to do all the things that are supposed to kill you.” Her goal was to cram a lifetime’s worth of experience into that last year.

I admit that I play that card sometimes. I am not above enjoying slightly discomfiting nurses and doctors and casual friends. If someone comments about my eating too many artificially flavored foods or something like that, I say, “What? It could give me cancer?”

I do have a sense of humor that has been one of my primary defense mechanisms as well as one of my greatest coping techniques. (Two sides of one coin.) I like to joke and kid around. I love absurdity and anachronism. I am fundamentally happy. (Remember that the fundament is what is at the bottom, the foundation. It is not always visible, but it’s always there, holding everything up.)

(I also really, really love parentheses as a written form.)

I’m doing pretty well, all things considered. I have a couple of new pains that I’m going to discuss with my oncologist at our appointment next month. No point in making a special appointment—I know what is most probably causing the pain, I have pain meds at home. I don’t see any practical benefit to knowing that yes, it’s more mets, and if it’s something else, it’s not urgent and the onc will let me know in due course.

Don’t get me wrong. I am afraid of progression. I know that the cancer will inevitably progress and then progress some more until it kills me. I am not complacent in the face of that. But I can’t do anything about it that I’m not already doing, so when I feel afraid, I look at it, recognize it, let it go.

It’s not only alcoholics who can benefit from the beginning of Serenity Prayer. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

This isn’t a one-time thing, this letting go. I do it over and over again, every time I get scared. Sometimes I cry and talk to a friend about it, sometimes I write about it. Sometimes I just keep it to myself… to myself and God. But I do let it go each time.

I liked the TV show I saw the other day. Toward the end, the visiting nurse had to give that lady the news that her last MRI showed progression in several organs. “How long do I have,” the lady whispered. “Two months,” said the nurse.

The lady’s face crumpled, her body seemed to collapse inward, and she cried. Then she straightened up, took a deep breath and said, “Well. I think we can skip the coffee today and go straight to the brandy!”

That was real.  Thank you, writers of Frankie.

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17 Responses

  1. Maxine D says:

    Ah yes – and there is still very little realism about the portrayal of cancer in entertainment – the crushing diagnosis and then the tragic end, but not the months, sometimes years of treatment, the emotional roller coaster for all involved, the side effects and the other impacts on daily living – bah humbug to canertainment!
    Glad to see you rumbling the media again Knots
    Hugs and prayers

  2. Telling … thank you for this. Blogs that explain our reality yet are sprinkled with humor are rare … and greatly appreciated!

  3. ZhiHui mom says:

    Thank you for sharing again and the reminder that us metsters are not alone. This is a sad while comforting fact. Choosing to be happy, cherishing time and helping others is very healing. If I can’t heal my body, I can heal my emotional state–whatever it takes! Go Knots!!

  4. Theresa Leyble says:

    Thank you!

  5. Susanne says:

    This post, as always with you, Knot, is powerful and poignant. I love the impact, the bit about doing it over and over again.

    I’ve said that I’ve come to terms with my diagnosis. That doesn’t mean I’m complacent about it and think it can’t be changed (hence my advocacy) nor does it mean I dread hearing the P-word.

    Just because I’ve come to terms with that bus barreling down on me that I can’t escape doesn’t mean I don’t dread it as it comes closer to impact. But the fear of that impact is no way to live.

    We know it’s coming, so why not skip straight to the brandy and enjoy what we have left? <3 This post resonates with me so much.

  6. Colleen Logan Hofmeister says:

    As a woman who has been roaming around in these freaking metastatic flip flops for over eight years now, I love reading your work…you GET it. The thing is, how can I ensure anyone else in my life GETs it? I live in a constant state of fear–fear of progression, fear of more pain, fear of my untimely death (and let’s face it, to me, ANY time of my death will be untimely!) My family–especially my hubby–takes these eight years as a sign the docs are wrong, that I am fine, that everything will continue to be FINE. Ah, to be that innocent–to go back to the days when I believed the hype, when I believed the fact that I went for regular mammograms AND sonograms would protect me from a late stage diagnosis. Where’d I put that Brandy, anyway?

  7. Kathi says:

    Well done, Knot. I generally avoid medical shows these day, as well as shows about cancer, as I think they usually get both things wrong — the clinicians and the patients. As someone with a foot in each camp, as it were, your honesty and humor are greatly appreciated. As ever. xo

  8. Tracy says:

    I often wonder why when we have TV adverts about tampons and sex toys and TV programmes that allegedly reflect reality, we continue to struggle with the reality of dying, in particular from metastatic cancer. The media in all its forms continues to paint a picture that is at best unrealistic and at worst ignorant and hugely disrespectful to those with stage IV disease. Hiding something from view doesn’t make it go away…

  9. Shari Larsen says:

    Another excellent blog as always!

    I totally agree, and I think all of those “happy endings” for those who have breast cancer portrayed in TV and movies only perpetuate the myth that “no one really dies” from “just breast cancer.”

    My cancer is now in my lungs and liver in addition to my bones; I can’t do anymore chemo because my bone marrow is, as my oncologist puts it, “too worn out”. I admit to relying on processed foods more often than I should, because on my really bad days with the fatigue, it’s what is the easiest for me. The way I look at it, at least I am eating SOMETHING. I’m also treating myself to chocolate more often these days 🙂

    At this point, I believe in moderation; I do what I can to make my quality of life the best it can be, but if I am craving a pizza I’m not going to deny myself a little indulgence either.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Completely agree with you, Shari. I’m so sorry you’ve reached this point in your journey. Pizza and chocolate won’t kill you, and if they make you happy – go for it!

  10. Beth Beaver says:

    just found your blog. Thank you. Humor and reality in one place. Namaste.

  11. Mandi says:

    Ha! I always bring coffee with me. Now I am thinking it needs brandy in it. If only my liver counts would behave. Fundamentally happy is good. I hope someday I can find serenity, for now I am still in a state of rush and panic. Maybe that brandy would help…

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