My so-called cancer

Caption: Big D's first AA meeting" Picture of AA batteries, one speaking at front of room, with D battery in group.I scored Blackout the other day in the New and Notable section of the library. It’s a well-reviewed autobiography of an alcoholic writer who gave up drinking 5 years ago. The author provided a good glimpse of what it’s like to be an addict.

This woman went to AA for support, but initially she sat silently at the back of the room, feeling she didn’t fit in. Outside meetings, she continued to drink. You’ve probably heard similar sentiments from other addicts before. “I can control my drinking/drug use/gambling.” “I only get high on weekends.” “I could stop anytime and I wouldn’t miss it.” “Sally drinks more than I do.” Addictions are harder to see from the inside.

Are you expecting me to confess to my alcoholism now? Sorry, but Jelly Bellies and chocolate are my drugs of choice. Plus we’ve already determined that liver disease and alcohol are not good bedfellows. Nonetheless, in my infinite capacity to personalize everything, I understood this woman’s difficulty relating to other addicts. I often feel the same way about having leukemia.

I go to the Cancer Centre fairly regularly of late, but don’t feel like “one of them”. I don’t have cancer the way others do. Cancer can kill people–I know this from my close friend Scott, the subject of my very first post, and from The Fault in Your Stars, and from obituaries–but it’s not going to kill me.

When I go to the Cancer Centre, my denial is reinforced by how different I look from these sick people. My chemotherapy isn’t administered through an IV, and it doesn’t make me vomit or lose my hair. Each day, I simply take three little white pills to keep my bone marrow happy, with minimal side effects. I don’t have tumours or pain like people with many cancers and my radiation stint was brief. Moreover, my magic rays shrunk an organ, not a tumour.

My little bubble of separateness recently burst, however. First, I learned that someone who was peripherally part of my cancer world had died. But her cancer was more advanced and untreatable than mine. I could let that one go. I’m so not her.

Then I heard of someone with an illness very similar to my own who died, and I was shaken. This fellow developed a minor infection that spread rapidly because of his depressed immune system. He died within days. Yet again, I started a list of the many ways I’m different from him: he was older and weaker; his infection was not caught immediately; his immune system was more incapacitated than mine. In the same circumstances, I would have rallied, right? I did once before. Remember the ICU?

So here I am, almost three years post diagnosis, still sitting at the back of the meeting room (metaphorically, that is; I can’t fathom attending a real leukemia support group, even though I know it might be therapeutic), feeling different from every single one of those sickies. Every so often I realize I’m just like them, but I shut that down quickly. If I feel a kinship with these folks, I’ll die, right? So I’ll pretend I don’t have what they have.

I’ve decided to return unread the New and Notable novel I scored about the teenage girl who dies of leukemia. If I can personalize an alcoholic’s story, imagine my reading about someone whose leukemia kills her. That’ll surely burst my little denial bubble.

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