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.