I Don't Count
"Just remember - the light at the end of the tunnel may be you." - Aerosmith, "Amazing" "Oh I had breast cancer too but mine was easy, I don't count." These words, that I've heard stated from other survivors, break my heart. I've listened to them tumble into conversations countless times in many different contexts and yet each time I have to catch my breath and resist reaching out to shake some sense into whomever just said it. UMMM, WE ALL COUNT. One thing I have realized in the past eight years is that cancer is not just a disease it's a community. Yes, we may all have different types: breast, bone, thyroid, melanoma, pancreatic, brain, ovarian, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (suffice it to say - there are too many to list). The directory of cancers and the sub-grades of all the different types (stages, lymph-node involvement, metastatic or not, chemo or no chemo, radiation or no radiation) create an endless spreadsheet of possibilities and treatment options that make the March Madness brackets seem like a child's game of hopscotch. Once you hear the words, "You have cancer" you are shaken to your core...and guess what - YOU COUNT. You've now moved into the holy-shitballs-my-life-will-never-be-the-same neighborhood. You will have a surgeon and an oncologist that you will regularly interact with for the rest of your life. You will worry about a stupid headache or a backache or toothache. You will snap your head around and pay attention when you hear a newscaster talk about new breakthroughs in cancer research or new cancer risks while fixing dinner. You will change and you will count. THERE IS NO GOOD CANCER. There are cancers that are more easily treated with less invasive procedures and drug regimens but once your cells have betrayed you and gone rogue you are now a warrior. You will be a survivor. You will find ways to thrive. We will count YOU among us in sistahood or bruthahood. If you have "only" had a lumpectomy and "only" had radiation please don't diminish your experience and think you don't count compared to your friend who may have had the whole megillah. If you say you "only" had thyroid and "only" had to take a radioactive pellet while in isolation for a week you cannot then believe you don't count amongst us. You do count - you've been indoctrinated, your experience was just different. This is so similar to the mommy shaming that happens between moms that work outside of the home compared to moms that work inside the home and the body shaming that happens in the media regarding celebrities that suddenly gain or lose a dramatic amount of weight. But so often people don't put cancer into this perspective. And the worst offenders frequently the ones that see themselves as "getting off easy." We are all our toughest critics. Let me tell you, no one gets off easy. Don't compare your road to another's. There may be pebbles on your path that make your walk painful. Others have rocks that cause them to trip and stumble and some may have boulders to climb. If you would never judge another's journey then please - do not judge your's either. Life can change in the blink of the eye. One day you are going about your business and the next you may be rushed to the hospital in excruciating pain not knowing what tests will be done and what they will find. I survived breast cancer twice, chemo twice, radiation once and a dozen surgeries (most small - some massive) - and technically I'm an endometrial previvor. That's my story. It hasn't been easy and I wouldn't wish what I went through on anyone. I know so many in my cancer community that have had similar treatments to mine. I can sympathize and relate to what they experienced because of my experience. I also know many others that had far more harsh treatments than I had and though I may not understand completely I can certainly empathize. I have dear friends that have had minimally invasive treatments that impacted their day to day lives less so than mine but I truly believe they bring just as much enrichment and wisdom to the cancer community as any other patient. We all have something to offer, a way to inspire, and a purpose. Like they say in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, "Apples and oranges are different but they are both fruit." It's they same way with cancer. We are all individuals with different diagnoses and treatment plans but we have all had to face our mortality, make choices, and endured painfully invasive tests. Since taking a stroll down Cancer Lane all of us now wonder; Am I done? Will it come back? Will I be forgotten? Maybe the anxiety hits us in the middle of a supermarket as we run in to grab some bread racing past an obviously hairless woman in a head scarf. Maybe it's when we are taking a hot steamy shower gently running our soapy hands over our scars. Maybe the fear you feel happens at 3 AM in a dark and quiet bedroom. Maybe the dread seeps in while we wait in our doctor's office for a blood draw.
We've all been there and we all hope for a happy ending. We all count.