Am I a weak person because I still have cancer?

You knew that all of this blog frivolity would have to end sometime. Serious Annie is back today to talk about the controversial fundraising ad for Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

In the ad, sick kids are presented as warriors overcoming a variety of illnesses, including cancer. Some parents with children with chronic, insurmountable or even terminal illnesses find this message dismissive. I may be an adult, but I too dislike the ad’s insinuation. What about those of us who, however hard we try, can’t conquer our illnesses in a boxing ring?

When I first saw the ad, I had just finished Tig Notaro’s I’m just a person, an autobiographical account written following her recent bout with invasive breast cancer. In her book, she highlighted the absurdity of the courageous cancer battle, as if those people who succumb to cancer are lacking will or determination or have brought their condition on themselves.

Why are people lauded for beating cancer? What about people like me who are living with cancer until we die? Does this reality make us weaker or less courageous than those who overcome their illnesses? Am I not fighting my battle hard enough? And how about those people whose bodies are saddled with chronic or progressive ailments? I can’t imagine Huntington’s disease is a lot of fun. Does someone with Huntington’s deserve his unfortunate outcome? Of course not.

People who learn I have leukemia often ask me if I’m in remission. Every such query reminds me that CML does not go into remission. It’s always there. I’d even call it clingy, and nobody likes clingy. Having cancer until the day I die makes me furious some days and sad others.

I certainly wish I didn’t have cancer anymore, trust me. If I could divorce my illness I would, but it just won’t leave. I should be grateful to be alive, yet I resent my CML, and I shamefully admit I resent people who’ve waged their courageous battle with cancer and won. Then I remember the courageous ones may spend the rest of their lives dealing with the side effects of brutal cancer-killing treatment or worrying about a recurrence, and I feel like a terrible person.

How can I possibly resent the cancer conquerors? I should be happy for them, shouldn’t I? Before I had cancer, I found it easier to be so, but now that I have a forever cancer, I find it harder. Not always, though. Some days I am genuinely happy for you for overcoming your cancer even while I’m sad for myself that I can’t.

Truth is I’m as far from courageous as one gets. I’m anxious and unsettled about my illness and I worry that every new twinge could be a sign of my imminent demise. But, wimp or not, I still don’t appreciate the message in that ad. Similarly, I may think I’m fat some days, but I won’t appreciate it if you call me “fatso”.

If you’ve overcome cancer, I’m not angry at you, but I am jealous that I can’t be in your shoes. Maybe your grass isn’t truly greener but it still looks incredible from here. On the other hand, maybe that’s because you don’t have a dog.

Lawn with dead spot because dog peed on it

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9 thoughts on “Am I a weak person because I still have cancer?

  1. I agree, Annie! I feel that way, too, but I do think you ARE a courageous person. This may not be related, but for some reason today’s blog reminded me of an obituary I read a long time ago, which said “the cancer died with her, so it can not claim victory”. Years ago (BC for you) you also said to me “so, you’re living with cancer — not dying from it!”. Anyway, I try not to see it as a battle — I see it as LIFE!

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    • Thanks for your vote of confidence, Wil. Right back at you. I do like the sound of that obituary you mentioned. Maybe I’ll get J. to borrow the line for mine, which hopefully won’t be needed for some time. And I’m glad to hear that I said something wise to you before I had cancer. I would say the same thing today. Maybe we can both live with cancer for a really long time. Are you in? XO

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