By Samantha Lozier
I never truly realized how complicated cancer could be until I had to face it head on. Part of what makes it so complex, I’ve found, is that illness or not, we still have that inner “gremlin” inside all of us that tells us to care what others think and behave as they expect us to. It urges us to focus on the flaws, instead of the fabulous.
I remember months ago telling someone at some point I may have to begin a treatment I may be on for the rest of my life. Without missing a beat, the person said, “That’s OK.” And of course I immediately agreed with them, because that is what you’re supposed to do: You put on your Positive Pants, nod, smile, and say, “Of course. If it saves my life then I’ll do whatever I need to do.” You want to reassure the person (and yourself) that you’re ready to do what needs to be done.
And it’s not that it isn’t true, because it is; it lives and breathes deep inside of you. But maybe there’s more to it, and maybe you want to say so without feeling like you’ll be judged (or give those gremlins sharper teeth).
When you have a life-threatening disease, when nobody knows how long you may live, your inner gremlin comes alive. It chomps at the bit, drooling over the opportunity to make you believe that you’re weak, that your body is betraying you, that life has betrayed you and you will never have what others have. That pot of gold, your endless trail of love and laughter, family and kids, a legacy and career, sandy days on the beach, and watching your love grow for years – it all evades you (or so your gremlins want you to believe).
When I started another life-saving treatment recently, my second systemic treatment (after three surgeries) since being diagnosed with liver melanoma in 2013, I felt a surge of appreciation, maybe even luck. I know not all stage IV cancers even have treatments, and not everyone is 45 minutes away from one of the best hospitals in the world, with one of the top melanoma doctors in the world. That luck, or fate or whatever you want to call it, never passes me by without a flush of deep gratitude.
But after these thankful thoughts came others, ones I wasn’t sure I should even say out loud. Like what if I get a side effect from the drug and it keeps me alive, but I have the side effect for the rest of my life? Of course the treatment working is my top concern, but I also worry that I will have rashes, headaches, or stomach problems forever. Or that I may gain weight, which sounds amazingly shallow and crazy. Who cares if you don’t look good in a bathing suit if you’re alive? But that’s not what it’s about, I’ve learned. Really.
It’s about feeling good. It’s about having energy to live your best life; not just breathing, but living. It’s about feeling like something in your chaotic world is in your control. You may have to take a drug every few weeks to try to save your life, but what if you don’t get a side-effect? Does that mean the medicine isn’t working?
Can I be incredibly grateful for this treatment, but scared of being sick? Can I be worried that the treatment won’t work, while relieved if I do get a rash? Can I drink a green juice one day and make brownies another and still feel that I am doing everything I can? Does everything have to be this complicated, or am I making it so?
I’m afraid if I say I don’t want to get sick, or I do want to get sick, or that I’m bummed about being treated possibly for the rest of my life, that would mean that I have some part in what happens. That my mind is connected to how well this medicine works. If anything could save me from this awful, unfair disease, I would do it or say it. But what’s the trade off? A green juice and not being able to leave home from side effects? No side effects at all, but being perceived by the universe as ungrateful?
I promise you I do understand how important this treatment is, despite what may or may not come, but I also think that cancer brings with it so many different complex issues. We want nothing but to live as long as possible, but we want that life to be full of travel, work, and friends, and feeling good about ourselves, our bodies, our choices, our lifestyle, and our experiences. Until now, I never fully realized that life may not be worth living if I get so sick that I can’t actually live. I don’t expect this to happen, but when I take down that wall between me and the rest of the world, the wall between me and you, the truth of it all comes rushing towards me. Let us be authentic. Let us talk about our fears. Let us speak the truth out loud in the hopes of healing. Because that, my friends, is the best part of life: The truth, and how it really can set us free.
This post originally appear on Samantha’s blog, You Can Handle the Truth.