Our dance with cancer is tenuous, so we better lead the way.
Cancer requires a partner. Though we may be reluctant participants, we are still part of the process. We are, like it or not, sharing this bizarre physical duet with a companion that has but one aim in life: the unswerving desire to kill us. Cancer cells don't have any sinister intelligence as far as we know, but they have an unquenchable thirst to proliferate, and by doing so, they threaten our very existence.
When I was first diagnosed with male cancer of the breast, I felt violated — almost insulted to have my own body play host to such a despicable villain, planting those hidden cancer cells that were nesting in my chest.
I wondered how I could battle, or even negotiate for some sort of settlement with an unseen adversary like cancer. I had no means with which to plan my own defense, other than the standard methods of treatment that have been the cornerstone for female breast cancer for many years. That's all there was, and to some degree, that's all there still is. My cancer has very little new research to give me an edge by which to fight it, or even a chance to gain the upper hand in this deadly duel. And that's OK. I'm not fighting reality. I'm willing to live with my cancer every day and hope that with each new medical breakthrough, there just might be one for me, and men like me.
So, in a strange sort of way, cancer has the leading edge in our lives and we are bound to follow its path as unwilling participants looking for a way out.
But when we put cancer on the front burner so to speak, diligently going through the necessary motions, the procedures, the chemotherapies and clinical trials, we can fall in to a routine of just waiting for something curative to occur. We hurry into our cancer routines, if only to get it over with. It's tempting to see cancer as an "outsider" when, in fact, it is inside job, doing precisely what it was designed to do. And so, our natural tendency is to push it away as we dash ahead with our own plans for the future.
But in my experience, rushing through cancer is also rushing through life. And nobody knows better than cancer survivors that life is a precious gift to be savored each and every day.
I've learned, after many years of meditation practice, to stop the grasping, the longing and the waiting for my cancer to go away. When I allow my cancer to guide my life, I give up the opportunity to direct my own future. Certainly our prognosis has a direct influence in how we live day-to-day, but to give in out of sheer exhaustion and acquiesce in the face of this unfortunate disease is to give up our ability to dance in spite of it.
We have the right and the obligation to dictate our own journey. And it's from this place of empowerment, as directors, producers and writers of our cancer experience, that we offer ourselves the very best chance to survive, or, in the worst-case scenario, to die on our own terms. The way I see it, staying hopeful as we move forward isn't a bad choice.
Cancer can never be given top billing in our lives. We have a major production in the works. It's the story of us. And nobody can write it or tell it or choreograph it better than we can.