It's Not Always Cancer

March 21, 2018
Mike Verano
Mike Verano

Mike Verano is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist and thymic cancer survivor with over 30 years experience in the mental health field. Mike has had articles published in national and international magazines and is the author of The Zen of Cancer: A Mindful Journey From Illness to Wellness. In addition, he maintains the blog, Confessions of a Pacifist in the War on Cancer. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Lanexa, Virginia.

Cancer has taught me to be stoic when necessary, needy when appropriate and mindful at all times that the physical body is both fragile and resilient.

As a cancer survivor, I find that I now approach most health-related problems with the sigh of relief. “At least it’s not cancer.” To date, 2018, has provided multiple opportunities for this breath work. My last PET scan revealed a kidney stone that painfully passed in January and gallstones which are resulting in the removal of my gallbladder next week. Additionally, pain in my right shoulder, eerily reminiscent of the pain in my left shoulder that led to my cancer being discovered in 2009, turned out to be arthritis.

The fact that even eight years removed from the fateful day, the arrival of these new medical challenges automatically triggers a response deep in my brain speaks to the power of this diagnosis and how one’s life is never the same after receiving it. Waiting on the results of a CT scan to check for kidney stones, and preparing for gallbladder surgery brings an eerie déjà vu that makes my toes go numb—just like the first time I was told my cancer was stage 4.

It’s blessing and curse to have the bar for one’s health set so low that conditions that might send others into a “what’s happening to my body” lament, leads to a feeling of being underwhelmed by the ever-changing challenge of the aging process. It sucks to lose trust in the healthy functioning of one’s body, but it’s wonderful to still be around to suffer the slings and arrows of growing older.

As I await a non-cancer related procedure, I have turned once again to the tried-and true methods of anxiety control to silence the worst-case scenario critic in my head that wants to keep a running log of “organs I no longer have.” Cancer has taught me to be stoic when necessary, needy when appropriate and mindful at all times that the physical body if both fragile and resilient. Survivorship brings awareness that health is a matter of practicality and perception. Once again, as I turn my body and trust over to the wonder that is modern medical science, I will turn my mind to the art of trusting that, as the poet Rilke wrote, “life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.”