STAYING ALIVE

In 2010, I discovered I had cancer in both breasts. Two tumors, unrelated to each other. Just twice lucky. They removed the tumors and the associated breasts, gave me very attractive fake replacements. Much perkier than the old ones in an artificial implant sort of way. I have a little ID card for my breasts, like they have their own personae. Maybe they do. Thus, a little more than seven years after the siege began, I’m officially a survivor. Almost but not quite.

My mother died of metastasized breast cancer. My brother died of pancreatic cancer 10 years ago, having never gotten as old as I am. This is not a reassuring family history.

All chronic illnesses make you paranoid. The thing that’s so insidious about cancer is its absence of symptoms. The possibility that it is growing somewhere in your body and you won’t know it’s there until it’s too late, is about as scary as disease gets. Nor is it a baseless fear. I had no idea I had cancer — much less in both breasts — until it was diagnosed twice during a two-week period. One diagnosis of cancer is hard to handle. A second diagnosis a week later is like getting whacked over the head with a bat. It leaves you stunned, scrambling to find someplace to stand where the earth isn’t falling out from under you.

I don’t think most of us are afraid of dying per se. We are afraid of the journey we will have taken to get there. We’re afraid of pain, suffering, the humiliation of dependence and gradual loss of control of our own bodies. After having one or more close encounters with the dark angel, no one is eager to feel the brush of those wings again.

We are called survivors, which means that we aren’t dead yet. The term is meaningless. Put into perspective, we are all survivors. Anyone could be felled by a heart attack or run over by an out-of-control beer truck tomorrow. The end of the road is identical for all living creatures; it’s only a matter of when it will be and what cause will be assigned. Everyone is in the same boat. If you’ve been very sick, you are more aware of your mortality than those who who’ve been blessed with uneventful health, but no one gets a free pass. The odds of death are 100% for everyone.

Recovering from serious illness is a bumpy road. Each of us has a particular “thing” we find especially bothersome. For me, it’s dealing with well-wishers who ask “How are you?” If they wanted an answer, it might not be so aggravating, but they don’t want to hear about my health or my feelings about my health — which are often as much the issue than anything physical.

They are being polite. So, I give them what they want. I smile brightly and say “Just fine thank you.”

I have no idea how I am. All I know — all I can possibly know — is that for the time being, I am here. To the best of my knowledge, nothing is growing anywhere it’s not supposed to be.  Six-and-a-half years after a double mastectomy, I am in remission. That’s as good as it gets.

The real answer for those of us who have had cancer, heart attacks, and other potentially lethal and chronic ailments is “So far, so good.”

That is not what anyone wants to hear. We are supposed to be positive. Upbeat. You are not supposed to suffer from emotional discomfort. Why not? Because if you aren’t fine, maybe they aren’t, either. They have a bizarre and annoying need for you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed no matter how you actually feel. It’s their version of a vaccine.

Since cancer, I’ve gone through major heart surgery and having survived that, I figure I’m good to go for a while. None of us are forever, but I’m alive. Presumably I’ll continue to stay that way.

Welcome to surviving. It’s imperfect, but it beats the hell out of the alternative.

SYMPTOM | THE DAILY PROMPT

31 thoughts on “STAYING ALIVE

    • Two of them, one for each breast. They look like little drivers licenses, but no pictures. I have another one for my heart valve. They sit in my wallet. Three of them, the size of credit cards. As I always tell Garry, I will NEVER be an unknown corpse on a slab. I really have a LOT of ID.

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        • You REALLY need to learn to laugh — for your own sake. But also, for your family and friends. Even when I was really really sick a few years ago, I knew it would eventually be funny. Maybe it’s just the way I see the world? Most things that don’t kill me are going to be some kind of funny 😀

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      • Regards the battle against cancer: I have two old friends doing battle right now. I hardly know what to say that’s not trite or cliche.

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  1. I don’t know how i would cope with such an illness, something that is always hovering somewhere. There is no breast cancer in my family, but heart attacks and a grandmother that died of bowel cancer many years ago, all on my maternal side. Dad never had any such problems, so I have 50:50 chances. I am glad you are now in remission.

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    • I didn’t know until I knew and then I did what life required. It’s what we ALL do.

      I would not worry about it. Everyone’s going to get something eventually. At this point in life, we have quite enough baggage. I only think about it now because this is the time of year I have to see the various doctors. The heart guy and the oncologist et al. I wish I didn’t have to do it, but … It’s like any serious thing: you are never free of it. You may remit, but it’s never gone.

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  2. I never ask ‘how are you feeling’ without being open to an honest answer. Sometimes you just need to be able to spit, scream or weep… I’ve never understood why we ask otherwise. The idea of a ‘vaccine of alrightness’ sounds about right. Sadly.

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    • Me too. I will offer condolences and hugs and love, but unless I really want to hear the whole story, I don’t ask a question to which I don’t want an answer. It is hard on people who have chronic or long-term problems to answer that in any sensible way. Does the questioner want to know about the doctors? the treatment? the medication? Sometimes I really DO want to know, either because I have something similar or someone else I know has something similar. Or I think maybe I can offer some kind of help. But just as a passing word, it leaves me, personally, just annoyed. I stopped going to church (I’m not a Christian, but Garry is) because I would get swamped with “how are you” and I had to keep my answer to under 15 seconds. Cancer and heart disease are a little more complicated than that. For that matter, so are most serious problems. It’s not like the sniffles, here today, gone tomorrow.

      But I also understand these are not bad people. They don’t want to upset me. They are just being polite, so I try to give them what they really want. Which is “I’M FINE.” They like that. FINE works for them 😀

      Sick people who ARE FINE and tell people who really ARE just fine — makes them feel better. We are a kind of band-aid. If WE are fine, then all is well on Earth.

      Liked by 1 person

      • At least some purpose is served at such times then 🙂 Seriousy though, I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t going to listen. I won’t ask without a reason either. But I got to the end of my tether with platitude answers long ago… though it wasn’t ‘fine’ but ‘stable’ that sent me through the roof.

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        • Stable. And what does THAT mean? That is the platitude’s platitude. It could mean “nearly dead” or “ALMOST nearly dead” or “getting better, but not fast enough” or “Can someone saddle that horse? The guy needs to ride into town.”

          Stable. My house is stable. Except where it’s rotting and the gutters are all broken from the trees falling. And the giant pile of mud and rocks and mess from where the plow hit the garden.

          Our yellow car is also stable. It won’t run because the battery died and it’s too old to fix. You don’t GET more stable than that 😀

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            • I can easily see why. My son was not as sick as yours, though he was sick enough. It took them forever to figure out what was wrong with him (vitamin A poisoning, by the way – not common). But they kept telling me he was “stable” which meant NOTHING to me. He was comatose, seizing … and no one had any idea why. Rare things can be nearly impossible to find. Especially if they aren’t looking!

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  3. So Far So Good is a great answer to the q as far as i am concerned! 🙂

    I see the question very differently though. I agree with you that it is the polite thing to do, but i see it as a way for them to gauge how you ARE feeling so as to not put their feet in their mouths and say something normal that comes out dumb and possibly reopens a healing wound. I see it as an act of compassion and caring – hoping to hear a positive response because they know how depressing and upsetting illness is for the person undergoing it. And they know that feeling good is generally a better thing than feeling down – even though there are times it is unavoidable and perhaps even to a degree necessary.

    So, how ARE you ? 😉

    love

    Liked by 1 person

    • “So far, so good” is really the best anyone can really say. It isn’t what people want to hear. They want reassurances that everything is WONDERFUL. Even if it isn’t. I think they really need to hear that, not just about illness, but about everything. Maybe that’s how we elect such terrible people. They tell them they will make their lives better and they really need to believe it. Voila! Guess who is in office?

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  4. I feel the same way about death. I often catch myself hoping that I’ll just quietly slip away during slumber someday. The thought of being struck with a debilitating disease frightens me to the core. I have seen family members suffer from things like Alzheimer and cancer. It’s saddening to even witness people going through these things.
    Wish you health and happiness. All the best.

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    • Who doesn’t wish for that? It’s the final “thank you” from above, that we can pass silently without pain and fuss and medical bills. We had one friend who literally had been visiting us, then went to lunch with a friend. He said “I feel sort of funny” and fell over. Dead. He was in his late 80s and he had never been sick in his life. We miss him terribly, but what a great way to go. As he had lived, so he passed.

      Most of us don’t get that opportunity. In other countries, we are allowed to make a choice about it, but not here. And that IS a pity. We wouldn’t let our pets suffer like that, but these days, nothing merciful is happening in here. It can be difficult being us.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate your honesty talking about your medical history. I donated a kidney to my son five years ago and he is alive and functioning but not feeling great most of the time. He has the same problem as you do dealing with people who ask about how he’s doing – the ones who only want to hear he’s fine and move on. He’s not fine, but it’s better than being dead. Not many people understand living that way. He’s only 37 years old and has been dealing with kidney issues since he was 24. I really empathize with you. I also think your attitude is amazing and life affirming. Keep smiling through it all. And keep talking about it!

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    • Thank you. I always know things are seriously bad if I stop laughing.

      I have another friend who got a transplant, maybe a few months before your son. He’s having a lot of problems too, but so far, he’s hanging in there. This seems to be true of transplants. All of them. But he IS alive and that is better. My valve will eventually go too, but hopefully I’ve got another maybe 10 years? Hard know. I try not to think about it.

      We do what we can to find a way to live with whatever it is. There are no simple, no-problem solutions to survival. When something is wrong and it’s life threatening, you don’t get an unlimited number of choices in how to deal with it. Of all the possible choices, laughing is the only one that makes me feel better. Otherwise, I suppose I could have raged against fate … or be funny. Raging at fate is NO fun.

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      • I’ve had my new kidney for 13 months now and have not had a single issue with it – I AM fine, thank you! 🙂 ( and i really hope and trust it stays that way). So now you can’t claim ALL of them have problems 😉

        (Love and) Laughter is a very powerful medicine. We should take (and give if possible) regular daily doses of it. 🙂

        love

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