Living As If: Life Without Cancer

Started by mike-verano, March 05, 2016
6 replies for this topic
mike-verano

Member
558 Posts
Posted on
March 05, 2016
“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”
     -William James


Six years in to cancer recovery, I'm not able to say that I really remember what life was like before cancer. In my mind I have dreamy images of a life filled with sunny days and hardly a care. Back then, body aches were just the signs of overexertion, doctor's appointments were for stubborn colds and the inevitable breakdowns that come with getting older. Most of all, the "C word" was just that, a word not uttered that always happened to someone else.

My rational mind knows that even before cancer my life was filled with problems, worries, challenges, victories and defeats. Days of sunshine often gave way to dark and stormy moods. All in all, life before cancer was not that different from life after the diagnosis, with one great exception: now I have the realization that the bubble of existence could pop at any moment.

This awareness of the fragility of life, which I've come to see as transformative (the pearl in the muck of this disease), does not always provide a peaceful, easy feeling. While it has driven me deeper into my personal studies into the nature of who and what I am, it can also be a royal pain in the butt. During these times, when I've had it with the existential dilemmas, the metaphysical wrestling match between mind and spirit, I practice the technique that I call living as if.

As you've probably guessed, this mode of operating has at its core going about my life as if cancer never happened. This is not revisionist history, it's a deliberate effort to live out the story of my life, in this moment, minus the narrative of the cancer experience. There are four basic rules I try to follow when living as if:
  1. Denial is my friend and using it consciously means it’s not really denial.
  2. No looking back at pictures of myself during my hairless chemo days or reading past writings about cancer treatment.
  3. Complaining about the small stuff in life is permitted as it’s feels good to have as the biggest problem of the day be that the cat threw up on the carpet again.
  4. Whatever ailment takes center stage is quickly labeled as simply symptomatic of getting old.
I’ve tried to sell this formula for living as if to some of my psychotherapy clients with mixed results. A few see the intended irony that we are already living a life as if, and the only change I’m asking them to make is to replace a troublesome story with one that is either positive or, at worst, neutral. Most, however, will pushback with some form of wanting to "keep it real." This mantra of a culture weaned on the minutia of every happening, reinforces the belief that knowledge is liberating, no matter how painful. I will often respond with the line from Stephen Colbert, who mused, "The more you know, the sadder you get."

Personally, I find these retreats from the "reality" of living after cancer necessary to promote wellness. We survivors are often told not to let our cancer define us, but let’s be honest, it’s a Herculean task to keep the most traumatic, challenging, heart-wrenching experience from putting a frame around our existence. In many cases it’s the frame itself that actually gives our lives meaning. That being said, it’s the wise artist who, on occasion, paints a new picture in that frame. There is a great release that comes from allowing the freedom of expression to venture into the surreal; to distort reality to the point where the nightmare of cancer gives way to the dream of pure being.
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JCP

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
March 05, 2016
I just wanted to thank you for your thoughts. I often wonder if I'm living a life of denial because most of the time I donít think about being a breast cancer survivor. But then I assure myself, as your article does,that it is alrifht to just live your life. I am fortunate that beside my radiation tatoo and a few minor physical changes, the cancer has not affected my ability to continue life as if. Your article today reassured me that it is OK. Thanks
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DianeQ

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
March 05, 2016
I found your article very interesting. I always look for information on how others deal with living, knowing that we have cancer. I had breast cancer twice before finding out that I now have metastatic cancer. I have read statistics that state most patients die before 5 years of their diagnosis. It's been 3 1/2 years for me. I am doing ok.....I don't have many symptoms from the cancer....it's dealing with the mental aspect that is hard. What helps me is to find what I enjoy doing and stay busy. I love anything that involves paper, paint and ink, and have been a card maker for at least 30 years. I also do mosaics....anything creative. It's impossible to worry about cancer if I am painting or gluing things together to make a special birthday card for a friend or family member. I love those "mental vacations!" Thank you for writing about your experience! I wish you the best! Hang in there.
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bpshand

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
March 07, 2016
Interesting article. I recently went to a cancer survivors group where people tell their stories and talk about their angst or whatever is on their mind. It was my first, and probably last, attendance. I hope I don't ever feel the need to share because of a recurrence down the road but I was not the least bit interested in rehashing my experiences. I think it's great to have things like that available but I didn't want to crawl inside the "survivor" box even if it's an appropriate label. I didn't see the point. Making it a routine, to me, would make my condition too defining of who I am and only serve to direct my focus back to illness.
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Carolyn

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
April 13, 2016
I find great meaning and truth in your essay. As the parent of a son (who is now 25 years old) with significant disabilities, I have always chosen to view my son as my son - not as my disabled son. And as the recent recipient of the label of having metastatic breast cancer, I want to take that same approach to my own sense of "self." I am still Carolyn, not cancerous Carolyn. There is more to me than cancer, and I don't want to allow the fact that I will have this life-long issue to color everything in my life. To me the "as if" approach means simply living my whole life as a person rather than just as a patient. Thank you for expressing so well what I feel in my heart.
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Carolyn

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
April 13, 2016
I find great meaning and truth in your essay. As the parent of a son (who is now 25 years old) with significant disabilities, I have always chosen to view my son as my son - not as my disabled son. And as the recent recipient of the label of having metastatic breast cancer, I want to take that same approach to my own sense of "self." I am still Carolyn, not cancerous Carolyn. There is more to me than cancer, and I don't want to allow the fact that I will have this life-long issue to color everything in my life. To me the "as if" approach means simply living my whole life as a person rather than just as a patient. Thank you for expressing so well what I feel in my heart.
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golden1s

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
April 14, 2016
Wow, did this hit home for me!! I find it so hard to put into words but find others who actually "speak" for me, thank you. I thought I was home free 3 1/2 yrs ago when I was diagnosed with melanoma on the sole of my foot, had surgery and it was gone. Lat Aug, i developed a lump in my leg. Was put on yervoy/opdivo for 3 months, developed another lump in leg, so had surgery in Jan. Now 3 months later, another lump in leg. had mri found 2 more by knee, had ct and found another in thigh plus spots on lung. going in for pet scan on the 20th. So with all that said....I have been trying to live "as if" which is like surreal to me! I feel good, normal but know I have a battle to face ahead of me. I want to enjoy each day right now, do what I always do and pray that I will do it again! I go to visit my son this wkend to fill him in and I'm scared. How do you deal with ALL of this???
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