In 1994 the famed poet Charles Bukowski described cancer as bone silence. I grew up in the shadows of Bukowski’s writing, became an immediate fan, really used it to get myself through my wobbly moments and treasured every copy of his work I own.
It’s somewhat ironic that his poem Cancer was always my favourite in the years of blissful ignorance to what was about to come. I now relate to his “half past nowhere”s, his expression of loneliness and loss in illness and confrontation to isolation.
I have almost finished my cancer treatment, hopefully for good, but something doesn’t seem quite right. I have considered bringing a serenade of drag queens to my ward on my last ever day of chemotherapy, planned cakes and gifts for nurses and even what McDonalds order I will celebratorarily scoff down in the four hour car journey home, but I feel as if I can’t and shouldn’t.
Because it’s not always as positive as my story.
Survivor’s guilt is the concept and feeling that a cancer patient feels, despite the trauma, pain and illness that they have endured, that they cannot celebrate their own triumphs in wake of who they’ve lost, witnessed passing and in acknowledgment of those who are still fighting. My treatment has seen me close to death a few more times than I’d hoped for, feel a lot of things I didn’t particularly want to feel (the 42cm picc line being burrowed into my arm only to be pulled out a few days later wasn’t too fabulous) and sent me abroad – away from any sense of normality or home – for months. Surgery is approaching and a life without cancer might be in sight.
But there seems to be a lack of satisfaction or the desire to celebrate. I feel guilty for almost making it.
At the beginning of all this, I was told by a friend I made off the back of my tumour, that I would go to more funerals than birthdays. Though not 100% true, the concept that loss overweighs anything good in this world is overbearing. I have not cried a lot since being diagnosed. The first time was the night before my first round of chemo, the second after the first death I had to be part of, the third because I found myself forgetting the name of one (of an exhaustingly long list) guy I had the pleasure of knowing, who did not make it.
The fourth was imagining how his parents cope now. When I was first diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, despite putting on a brave face online and to those around me, I didn’t think I was going to make it. There are occasions I will still lay in bed and imagine if I had not made it. I imagine my boyfriend stopping in his path in his sleepy morning state as he accidentally pours two bowls of cereal instead of one or no longer needs to tell me off for leaving caps around his room. I imagine my parents choking on their words as they try to explain things to my little brother and him growing up without that annoying eldest sibling that always tries to put lipstick on him. Loss transpires into bittersweet luck and gratefulness for what I have. Knowing what I could loose and seeing it happen around me sucks, but drives me to the end of this all.
Cancer seems to be as mentally exhausting as it does physically. I am rapidly approaching my penultimate cycle of chemotherapy and my body and mind are equally as exhausted. My body is struggling to handle anymore poison passed off as treatment and my head feels like a psychiatric field day. I am not ashamed to feel the way I do, to have the thoughts I find myself having or be open about this. It is yet another pretty crappy side effect of this all.
As I type this, I have friends in chemo, out of chemo but struggling with infections, out of treatment but concerned about their futures and friends braving through cancer despite it being their second time fighting it. I also have friends surviving, friends who have survived and friends getting through their treatment as impressively as I wish I could. These people, whether struggling or slaying the game, have been beacons of positivity and strength over the past year. Cancer has welcomed the most inspiring and wonderful names into my life and I’m so grateful for that. It has taught me more about humanity, kindness and bitterness than any life experience ever could. I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that I wish it was always the case with me for everyone.
I am exhausted, burnt out, dreading this and that, but getting there and getting there only through the strength of those in similar boats to mine.
To read more of Dean’s cancer blogging, check out his other posts here.