Fight or Flight: Surviving Cancer

Honestly, I have not spent a great deal of time contemplating my evolutionary proclivities. Until recently that is. Certain events have revealed to me that I am a flyer. In precarious situations, my first instinct is to run away, even when it doesn't make sense. For instance, today, when a strong wind blew a painting onto my head and I was struck by the wooden frame, I didn't even bother to figure out what it was that hit me. I just ran in the opposite direction from the source of the wind and pain until I found myself huddled in a gymnasium. Obviously, a painting would be a stupid thing to fight, but it's not exactly something you try to escape either.

And I keep coming back to that shark encounter, where I unwittingly ended up 135 feet below the surface in a cold shark-infested cave, instead of diving through a lovely coral reef like I had anticipated. When I saw a shark come towards me, fighting did not enter my head. Instead, backed against a wall, I screamed bloody murder (difficult to do under water) until another member of the dive group came over, and then I gratefully hid behind her, hoping the shark wouldn't be hungry enough to go for seconds (again, not my finest moment). And this is after having read all those terribly useful articles about how to punch a shark in the nose/gills/eyes.

The thing is, everyone wants to be the fighter. You watch the movies where the hero goes down still shooting arrows into the beast that is killing him, or the woman executes some nifty karate moves on the would-be burglars and you think "Yeah! That would be me! I would totally kick that monster's ass!" Well, that is not me. I would be cowering in a corner, praying for the zombies, or aliens, or ghost children on tricycles to go away and leave me be. My husband has been trying to get me to carry a gun since the day I met him, but I can't stand the idea of shooting another person. I'd much rather punch up my treadmill speed a few more notches. The only sense in which I am a fighter is with words, often in the form of long pious speeches on the social injustices and atrocities of this world. Maybe I could bore my would-be killers into submission.

You may be thinking, "Yeah, you could totally do that. Now how on earth is this relevant to having cancer, you dope?" To which I reply, "Good question, you nincompoop." Jk. When you get cancer, you do not have the option of flight. Fighting is the ONLY option. Other than giving up completely, which, in certain circumstances can also be brave (see virtually every movie about cancer). So yes, there is bravery in fighting cancer. But it is not the kind of bravery one derives a lot of pride from. When people go around telling about being a cancer survivor, they aren't (hopefully) bragging about it, or rubbing it in the faces of those who don't share their good fortune. They are spreading the word so that others with cancer have hope.

My current research into scholarly articles on fight or flight instinct (Wikipedia) shows that isolation and television watching (and I suppose other forms of electronics that help you shut out the world) are considered contemporary flight responses. So I guess I have done my share of trying to run away from cancer, simply by ignoring it and putting off my scan (which I am regretting more with each ulcer). But shutting out the world and its demons does not make them go away.

Yesterday, the anniversary of my biopsy, I found out that my mother tested positive for nodules on her thyroid. They are going to do a biopsy soon. They said there was a tiny chance of finding nodules. But they were there. They say there is a tiny chance of the nodules being malignant. But they said that to me too. I can't help this sickening feeling crawling through my intestines. The idea of my MOM going through this absolutely horrifies me. I think it would be even worse than when I was diagnosed. At least I am young and caught it early. Not being the strong, silent type, I cried a bit when my mom told me her results. She rolled her eyes and said, "Well don't put me in the grave yet!" Hehe. She always knows what to say.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my diagnosis. I will have survived at least one year with cancer. Probably a lot longer. And even though I wasn't fighting by choice (or even by consciousness), I did fight. I did the surgery and the radiation and the medicine. I will continue to do the medicine and the scans. I have been eating healthier and exercising more. I have been spending more time with my family and friends.

I will pray every second of every day that my mother does not have cancer, but if she does, we will not give up. We'll fight it together.

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