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6.23.2011

There Is No Good Cancer


5.25-6.7

At Some Point In Your Thyroid Cancer Journey, Some Idiot Will Tell You It's the "Good Cancer"

There is a kind of character that appears in literature simply to test the other characters. This may not be their sole purpose, but it is often their most significant one. They are in some way deformed or helpless, in need of sympathy, help, a kind word. The other characters in the story are in turn defined by how they react to that character, how well or poorly they treat them. I’m convinced this needs a term: reflective character/ mirror character would work. This is what keeps coming to mind when I tell people I have cancer. How will they react? How does their reaction reflect on them? How does it reflect on me? How does it reflect on how they feel about me?

Of course, I’ve never really been on their side of things. I have never had a close friend or family member tell me they had an incurable disease. People simply got sick and died. There was no need for an announcement. But to look at me, I look like a healthy, somewhat typical 27-year-old. Nothing disease-like about me, and the incurable stuff is mostly mental. So unless I tell people, there’s no way they could possibly know I have cancer. With my closest friends and family, I told them on the phone. After all, I was at work when I found out. Others found out via word-of-mouth or text message. So the only face-to-face reactions I got to gauge were the ones of people who had only known me a short time and not on an intimate basis.

I guess what is really important is not whether this changes how other people see me, since I have no way of really figuring that out, but how this changes how I see me. I don’t feel like someone with cancer. I don’t look like one. I don’t want to be one. There are no benefits to cancer, despite my joking about marathons and free ice cream. To put it in the immortal words of my best friend: “It just sucks.”

Maybe I will get a few good stories out of it. I do seem to have a basis for a new blog. But when you are told something as frightening as “you have cancer,” you want it to MEAN something. To be significant. Life-altering. The kind of motivation you needed to turn your life around and start saving the world, one small child or puppy at a time. The final push to get out that novel you’ve been holding back on or take that trip to Uganda where you finally build that schoolhouse. I mean, now that the worst has happened, I should no longer be afraid, right? I should be able to face life with a toothpick in my mouth and a gleam in my eye and a mean right hook.

But the garbage still needs to be taken out. And I have bills to pay and a husband who might be a little miffed if I join the Peace Corps just now and I’m just as terrified as ever if not more. Definitely more. Because in additional to the normal rat race, I’ve now got things like surgery and radiation pills and a life dependency on medication to look forward to. Sure, maybe spiders don’t hold quite the same threat they used to (although the prospect of one touching me still makes me shudder). And maybe jumping out of a plane doesn’t sound quite so idiotic. But essentially my life and self are the same, with all the original flaws and bumps and chaos, and cancer is just the added bonus. Like winning the least desirable lottery. Who wants pancreatitis? A shiny new gallstone? Step right up and get your leukemia!

I find that my frustration with the lack of oomph and fanfare surrounding my new title of “cancer patient” is doubled by the fact that I have the “good cancer.” Now let me clarify: THERE IS NOTHING GOOD ABOUT CANCER. And there is certainly no good cancer. But when it comes to thyroid cancer, or “thyca,” well-meaning doctors and family and friends and strangers and people sitting next to you in the waiting room who are both bored and nosy will tell you, if you are going to have cancer this is the kind you want to have. (Yay.) Because it has a very high survival rate. It is treatable. Thyca patients do not undergo chemo. They do not lose their hair. Recurrence of the cancer is rare. In white women under the age of 30 (me) it’s practically like getting a pap smear. So they say.

Which is great. I mean, I really don’t want one of those recognizable cancers with the ribbons printed on milk bottles and SUVs. I don’t want any cancer. I just think that people sometimes try a little too hard with this silver-lining shit. To the point where you end up feeling like a moron for being afraid at all. For even using the C word. I mean, after all, it’s only THYROID cancer. Hardly a cancer at all. The hangnail of cancers. Oh, did poor bitty Mary get a paper cut? Does she need a bandaid?

Sorry for the excess sarcasm. It isn’t really that I’m trying to live this up or reap the rewards (if there are any) or throw a pity party. I just want someone out there to nod their head, put an arm around my shoulder and say, yeah, that sucks. To acknowledge that, while I am likely to survive this with a little more than a scar on my neck as a souvenir, I am still going through something terrible. Something frightening. And most importantly, something significant.


So here's to you, thyca patients: YOUR CANCER SUCKS.



3 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:41 PM

    Aww, Mary. I loved reading your post, it made me feel like your close by instead of hundreds of miles away. I'm sad that I'm not there to be by your side but I'm glad my family is there for you. I hope to visit soon. I love you so much!!

    Christina

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  2. Thanks for validating exactly how I feel. Since my diagnosis last week, I have been reminded that I have not been given a "death sentence" a couple of times. Such a great reminder from a healthy people who aren't getting ready to have surgery! Not to mention that I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was 29 and had a 6 month old baby. I could write several books about my life experiences with MS alone, how could I possibly be such a bad person that I would get diagnosed with cancer, too? Especially since I have been saying (for 17 years) .... at least I didn't get diagnosed with cancer. Somehow it made MS seem milder, although incurable and debilitating! I found out tonight that one of my friends sees me as a "pillar of strength". I told her how sad I am and how often I just lay in my bed and cry. She thinks I am strong because I just don't go out when I am weak or too fatigued from MS. I am used to pain, but I JUST DON'T WANT ANYMORE! Thanks for being candid. I am a nurse, but I can no longer handle the demands of working in Labor & Delivery. BUT, I am still terrified of surgery and terrified of the radioactive iodine and what it will do to my MS invaded brain and body! I hope you are doing as well as can be expected :) I am looking forward to reading more of your blog. Tracy

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    1. Tracy,
      Thank you for commenting. I am so sorry about your diagnoses. This is not an easy thing to go through. For me it made a world of difference knowing that there were people like you and me, fighting and often winning the daily struggle of living with a disease. I got my first cancer-free verdict in July, and while I still find this whole experience frightening and nonsensical, I am cheered and strengthened by the connections I have made to other cancer survivors. My thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with you!
      -Mary

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