I suffered a recurrence a few years ago and couldn’t bear to hear, or utter, the word “cancer.” So, I decided to counter-attack by belittling the disease and calling it “chocolate.” Then, I got my sweet revenge.
Once I called cancer “chocolate,” but it laughed in my face. Later, I got sweet revenge. Here’s my story:
I was diagnosed with stage 3 prostate cancer in December 2014. I didn’t feel much differently, and my health was consistently good. My PSA numbers were excellent. I felt a little cocky and double-dared cancer to come back.
In the summer of 2015, I suffered a recurrence and couldn’t bear to hear, or utter, the word “cancer.” Even seeing it printed on the page made me feel nauseous.
I decided to counter-attack, belittling cancer and calling it “chocolate.” I even instructed my family to follow suit. Surely, they must have thought I was a little nuts, but God love ‘em, they did grant my crazy request.
“How’s your, uh, ‘chocolate’ treatment going?” they would ask.
Aww, denial! I’m not the only cancer survivor who has used it as a crutch against the sobering reality of our disease. In a 2019 interview with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King, the superstar Olivia Newton-John was asked how she was coping with her breast cancer diagnosis. “Denial really helps,” she said congenially.
Denial brings a breathing spell, as we survivors try to get our hands around the gloom-and-doom of a cancer diagnosis. Denial places us into a welcome holding pattern. Denial, like chocolate, is, well, delicious.
My flirtation with the word chocolate went on for well over a year until a therapist at my Gilda’s Club support group called me on the carpet. Cancer, she argued, was an indisputable fact and no amount of denying would make it go away. “Face it,” she said. “You’re living in a fantasy world.”
I was stung by her bluntness. She had burst my bubble and there was no turning back. I was caught in cancer’s crosshairs and could no longer deny it as my constant companion. Perhaps I could reach out directly to cancer and establish a peaceful co-existence.
But first, I needed to get a load off my mind.
ME: “Cancer, let’s have a little chat.”
CANCER: “OK, Cancer Boy, what’s on your small mind?”
ME: “You don’t intimidate me.”
CANCER: “Hmm. You jumped when you first heard my name.”
ME: “I’ll begrudge you that. Most times, I block you out.”
CANCER: “I keep popping back up. Never let you rest.”
ME (bragging): “Shoot, I sleep like a baby.”
CANCER (viciously): “Liar. I’m the king of your nightmares!”
ME: “But you don’t scare me.”
CANCER: “Then why did you deny me and call me ‘chocolate’?”
ME: “To buy me some time. Temporarily. Some peace and quiet. But you love to create chaos.”
CANCER: “Cancer Boy, you’re whistling past the graveyard, so to speak (snickers).”
ME: “Humph, you don’t scare me.”
CANCER: “Maybe not now. Wait ‘til I start spreading.”
ME: “My treatments stopped you dead in your tracks.”
CANCER: “OK, ‘temporarily—,’ your word. Go stage 4! Go stage 4!
ME: “Pipe down! OK, blood tests and scans do get me sweating.”
CANCER: “Finally, you admit that your ‘scanxiety’ kicks in. What a great word. I thrive on it.”
ME: “You’re a bully and you don’t define me. So, how about a truce?”
CANCER: “Hell, no, I’ll never let my guard down. I shall not be denied, you fool.”
ME: “Hey Cancer, know what?”
CANCER: “What, loser?”
ME (bragging): “I got 0.00 on my PSA today.”
CANCER: “No, no, don’t say that. It cuts me to the core. Stop it!”
ME: “0.00! 0.00! 0.00!”
CANCER: “No, no, no!”
For once, I had cancer on the ropes and reveled in it.
My biggest takeaway? Cancer can never be “delicious,” but remission is. I’ll be celebrating my perfect-score 0.00 PSA with — what else — a chocolate sundae!
Ron Cooper writes about cancer, caregiving, the novel coronavirus and aging at RonCooperAuthor.com. Cooper recently unfriended cancer on Facebook.