Still Making Cancer My B!tch

The level of cancer fell just a little bit more according to my oncologist but the celebration is somewhat subdued. I lost two friends this week, within days of each other. Yes, cancer. Worse, neither had cancer when I was diagnosed. One has been very ill for the last couple of years, the other had just turned 50. Neither was supposed to be terminal.

And that’s how it happens sometimes. You might get lucky; you might not. Living with incurable cancer, not in remission but stabilised for some indefinite period, might be as lucky as you’re gonna get. But that might be just lucky enough.

I’m not knocking it. Back when I got the Diagnosis of Doom, I decided I was going to make the best of the time I had left. Making the best of things is an old family tradition; Old Eternal (my late mother, for those who may be new) used to be an expert at it. Now here I am with what looks like a lot more time than my oncologist expected. As I’ve said many times before in this blog, I never actually believed on a gut level that I was going to check out in January 2017. 

At the same time, however, it’s a little spooky to think that, had my cancer followed its standard course––had I not gotten so extremely lucky––I wouldn’t be here now. And the two friends I lost were supposed to be living their lives as usual. John Lennon once pointed out that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Truer words were never spoken.

A few days ago, I had started writing a post about survivor guilt. There have been a few posts I found very difficult and uncomfortable to write but this one was impossible. I have seldom written nonfiction; it’s really not my metier. I did write two nonfiction books in the late 1990s, one about the making of Lost In Space and another a year later about the making of The Mummy; they were assignments I lucked into and I think they turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. But I digress.

Survivor guilt is one of those things easier felt than explained––easier done than said, if you will. You can’t write about it without sounding like you’re fishing for comfort: Please forgive me for still being alive. You know people are going to tell you that you have nothing to feel guilty about. Except for the few whom you secretly suspect don’t forgive you.

Personally, I’ve always thought of survivor guilt as something suffered by people who have been through terrible catastrophes––natural disasters, mass transit crashes, explosions, wars. These people have been through extreme trauma and injury themselves. So claiming I have survivor guilt sounds self-aggrandising. The truth is, I’ve never been in pain and thanks to my family and my ongoing support system of friends far and wide, I’ve never felt alone or like I had no one to talk to. 

What I’m feeling is more like survivor embarrassment. It’s like this: you find out you’re terminal, and you make a big deal out of it, because what the hell, it is a big deal, to you anyway. Then, holy guacamole! Things take a completely unexpected swerve and it turns out you’re not as terminal as they thought. You’re not exactly well, not in remission, but you’re stable and you’re not leaving any time soon unless someone drops a house on you. (And even then, it would probably depend on the house.)

Well, I’m not the only person this has ever happened to. One example I’ve mentioned before is Stephen Jay Gould, who was given eight months when he was diagnosed with cancer and died twenty years later of something else. I never knew Stephen Jay Gould but I doubt he spent much time being embarrassed. But then, Stephen Jay Gould was a wiser, busier, more learned person than I am, with a lot more to think about. Dammit, I really did want to be a theoretical physicist/mathematician. But I digress.

This, too, is life. Life is a messy, unruly, smelly, chaotic crap-shoot and all roads lead to entropy. And, old reprobate that I am, it’s my idea of a good time. Green bananas all round!

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17 thoughts on “Still Making Cancer My B!tch

  1. This is clearly a work of fiction… *Pat* is *embarrassed*? Who could believe that?

    Well, Pat, we forgive you for making a fuss. In fact we hope to remind you about this little error for years to come.

  2. Went through survivor’s guilt, to some degree, when I lost my husband in 2006. There was, as is no doubt true of any 20+-year-long partnership, a lot of other stuff good and not-so good woven and snarled in amongst that guilt, and it took me a long time to work through it all. What it eventually came down to, to boil it down to boring inanity, was that unless I wanted to off myself, all I can do is go forward the best I can and remember him with love. And I do. Life *is* messy and I find I can seldom catch all those loose ends that keep popping up. In any case I’m so glad your health has taken the turn it has. You’re a dose of fresh air, lady!

  3. I’m so happy for you.
    Your thoughtful words reminded me that survivor guilt was a huge issue in the gay community in the 80s and 90s before antivirals came along. You’re the one person in your group of friends/lovers who, for whatever reason, never tests positive. Then you lose all of those friends and lovers, over the years, to the disease. People tell you how lucky you are, but you don’t feel lucky.

    • I’m old enough to remember when HIV always became AIDS and was 100% fatal. We lost so many good people and I can remember those who survived talking about their feelings of guilt. Their friends and loved ones were just glad they were still alive.

  4. We could all feel guilty for living, when you come right down to it, with all the people we have lost, On the other hand, I think they would want us to rejoice in being alive, so we’re all rejoicing with you for your good news.

  5. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 3/2/17 Doing The Trilogy Backwards | File 770

  6. I’m one of many who are happy you’re around, and hope you will be for many years to come. And btw, my mom says hi.

  7. Well, Pat, for a long time I had a friend named Jay Lake, with whom I compared medical information over many years. I have ended up being far luckier than he — and thus end up often thinking of him, and his daughter, and the light of his life Lisa.

    And of course of his wake, which managed (for a change) to exceed even my taste for morbid humour.

    I can only say: Live well, as you are doing, and remember those we lost (as you are also doing). It’s the best we can do. Live large, live for all the fallen. And, as my wife says, remember the living, which you also do.

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