WE ARE ALL SURVIVORS

In 2010, I discovered I had cancer in both breasts. Two unrelated tumors making me twice lucky. They removed the tumors and the associated breasts, gave me very attractive replacements which are perkier than the old ones in an artificial implant sort of way. One has deflated somewhat, but I’m not having surgery to fix it. It will just have to remain rather flat. I have a little ID card for each breast which is more than I can say for a driver’s license which I do not have because at age 75, I have to prove I’m me. I wonder who I was all those other years?

12 years later, there has been no cancer recurrence. I’m an official survivor. I no longer need to see the oncologist yearly

Surviving nearly fatal illness tends to make one paranoid. If the illness is or was cancer, the insidiousness is its absence of symptoms — until suddenly, there are too many symptoms. The knowledge that something evil is growing somewhere in your body and probably won’t know about it until it’s too late to fix is scary. Sometimes, when you are paranoid, it’s because someone IS following you.

I had no idea I had cancer — much less in both breasts — until it was diagnosed twice in 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.

My mother died of metastasized breast cancer so on one level, it wasn’t a surprise. My brother died of pancreatic cancer 14 years ago, having never gotten as old as I am now. This is not a reassuring family medical history.

I don’t think most of us are afraid of dying per se. We are afraid of the journey we will take to get there. We’re afraid of pain, suffering, the humiliation of utter dependence and gradual loss of control over our bodies. No one is eager to feel the brush of those dark wings and you can bet feeling them twice is two times too many. Anything more would be cruel and unreasonable, but we didn’t get a constitution with our bodies and there’s no supreme court to explain why we ought not have whatever we have in the way of illness.

We are called survivors which means we aren’t dead. Yet. If you think about it, “survivor” doesn’t mean much. Anyone who is still living is, by definition, a survivor. If you count the number of times we’ve recovered from things that — before antibiotics — would have killed us, we are all miracles of modern medicine.

We are all survivors.

Anyone could be felled by a heart attack or run over by an out-of-control truck. The end of the road is identical for all. It’s only a matter of when, what, and where it will strike. We huddle together in the same leaky lifeboat. 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 bumpy. Each of us has a particular “thing” we find aggravating that has nothing to do with actual illness. For me, it was dealing with well-wishers who ask “How are you?” but don’t want an answer. They are being polite or that’s what the apparently think. I give them what they want. I smile brightly and say “Just fine, thank you.”

Reality check: I have no idea how I am. All I know is that for now, I’m good. I am in remission. The real answer for those of us who have had cancer, heart attacks, and other lethal ailments is “So far, so good.” That is not what people want to hear. We are supposed to be positive. Upbeat. We are not supposed to suffer from emotional trauma.

Why the hell not?

Everyone knows that death is inevitable, but rarely want the ugly details. Besides, if I’m not fine, maybe they aren’t fine either. Cancer is mentally contagious, but not physically. Thus acquaintances have an annoying need for you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed no matter how you feel.

Since cancer, I’ve gone through major heart surgery and I didn’t get COVID. I figure I’m good to go for a while. None of us are forever, but I’m going to hang around for a bit.

Until I get called to… what? I have no idea. Heaven would be swell, but I have substantial doubts about it. Still, it would be a nice place to land, wouldn’t it?

Welcome to survival. It’s not perfect, but it beats the hell out of the alternative.



Categories: Anecdote, Cancer, Health, Heart, Hospital, Humor, medical history, Medical humor

Tags: , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. This is beautifully written and so profound. I’m bookmarking this because I see myself going back and reading this again.❤️

    Like

    • Thank you. I suppose the one good thing that came out of all of the medical disasters of my life was understanding. First of me, then eventually realizing that what I understood applies to many MANY other people. This is one of the few ways I found in which I can give back something to the world. I wish I could do more. Thank you for reading, thank you thank you thank you for “getting it.”

      Like

  2. Hi Marilyn,
    What a brave uplifting post to read. You are an inspiration and I hope you have wonderful support from friends and family. You sound such a strong woman and may you continue to write wonderful posts for sometime to come.
    My dad has terminal cancer and I’ve just recently been back to the UK. He seems to be okay for the moment but I’m ready to dash back asap when the time comes.
    Take care and be well 🥰

    Like

    • Thank you. I think part of me wants to make everyone realize that we all have issues and if we don’t have them, we probably will at some point because age has a price tag. If you don’t die young, you get old. it’s not bad to be old, but it does take a certain amount of nimbleness to figure out how to keep adjusting your life to whatever your body is demanding THIS week.

      My mother and older brother both died of cancer. I was with my brother when he died. My first husband died in a vegetative state following heart surgery and some bad medical care. I was with him when he died too.

      We all die. What I hope is that we are not alone and when we can, we are able to ease the way for those who are going before us. There are no right words to say. I think sometimes, the best thing is just to BE there.

      Like

      • Very wise words Marilyn. I feel sad because I couldn’t talk to my 90 yr old dad about it or my mum they were both in denial and yet I played bridge with a terminally ill 87 yr old man who said he had had a good life and would enjoy the rest of his days.

        Like

  3. Marilyn, this is a beautiful and poignant post. I completely understand your thoughts on being a “survivor”. Although I only know you through WP I know that your survival has led to this very moment in time, at which this middle age gal from MO has taken the opportunity to learn from your posts, enjoy your writing and art, and attempt to become a better reader, writer, and thinker because of you and Garry. I’m not for sure if you follow Martha Kennedy, but you remind me of her. I call you an overcomer! My Grandma Hale and 2 of her sisters (3 out of 5) battled cancer. My Dad has survived three cancers, two brain aneurysms, congestive heart failure (relies completely on pacemaker), diabetes, etc…In January I had two breast biopsies ~benign! But they will keep at eye on it. I survived a motorcycle accident, traumatic brain injury, and live with a mild cognitive impairment that makes me a fall risk. I lost some depth perception and memory. I have a blood disorder and diabetes. But still. But God. What you endured makes you a wise survivor. I know this to be true. When you’ve looked death square in the face, surviving becomes different. I never asked Dad how he felt. People still ask me, “How are you?“ I’m a positive person, but really try not to be Pollyanish. My reply, “I’m surviving!” If I feel like crap I say it! Lol Dad asked me a few Sunday’s ago why he’s still here (he and Mom have raised my niece with Cerebral Palsy as my oldest sister is disabled, too). “For us, Dad.” He peeked over the section of obituaries he was reading and I added, “You’re not getting the easy way out, Mister!” We have faith heaven is waiting. Thank you for sharing and being here!

    Like

    • Thank you. I really appreciate your comments. They make me feel that maybe I’m not doing this for nothing 😊 Sometimes I feel like I’m shouting into a giant void.

      Martha decided one day she didn’t like me. I don’t know why because she never told me. The internet can be a strange place probably because it isn’t a place. It’s cyber SPACE.

      Despite all the stuff I’ve gone through, I’m in pretty good shape now. If my back weren’t so messy, I could do a lot more. The really bad spine is an old, old problem from when I was a teenager. I worked around it (and ignored it) for almost 40 years until will power stopped working. Age, crumbling old surgery and arthritis won. At least I can still walk.

      Mainly, it’s good to remember we don’t have to be “nice” because other people expect it. It can be really hard to separate how we feel from what we think we SHOULD feel. I think this is particularly a woman’s problem — especially in my generation where we really were brought up to take care of everyone. I’ve never been able to entirely let go of it, even though I know better. Some thing are so ingrained in us it’s very hard to break away from it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re so welcome, Marilyn. 😊I’m glad to hear you’re in good shape now. The arthritis is a battle! I have degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis, a bad hip, and it all stems from my accident I’m sure. Eventually I’ll have surgery on my neck as it’s getting worse, but trying to avoid it as long as possible! I love your explanation of a “woman’s problem”. I consider myself old-fashioned and grew up thinking I needed to take care of everyone. Speaking of that ~please take care!

        Like

        • I had surgery back in 1967. It was a lot more primitive then and over the years, it has crumbled. I don’t think degenerative disc disease can come entirely from an accident. Stenosis definitely can and usually does, but human beings have bad backs. As a species, our backs are not well designed for the work we do (or for standing on two legs), so it’s not hard to damage them — but very hard to repair them. Don’t get surgery until you have absolutely NO choice and then, pick you surgeon very carefully. Get multiple opinions. You can only do it once and if it goes wrong, there’s no “fix it” process. I broke mine several times by falling (I hate stairs), horses (riding is great, falling isn’t), misusing a pickax (too young and stupid to know what I was doing). Sports, especially football, but also basketball often causes enormous damage. It’s hard trying to figure out how to help kids live a healthy life but keep them from getting broken.

          My son AND granddaughter both have very bad backs and though both were damaged by accidents and sports, I think they were just inclined to bad backs because it’s so much more common than most people realize. Usually, you realize it when yours stops working.

          Take care of yourself first because you can’t take care of anyone else if you aren’t able!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you so much! I appreciate this wisdom! I was an athlete most of my life~many year a softball player! When I sustained my neck injury in the accident (and a hood of a car coming down on me) it sure didn’t help. I completely understand about picking the right surgeon and I will heed your wisdom! I’m finally learning (I’ll be 52 in July) that I must take care of myself! You are indeed right! Thank you. 💛

            Liked by 1 person

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: