When thrust into a whirlwind of change and fear over a little thing called cancer you're faced with a host of coping mechanisms - whether you find them on your own or they are suggested to you (solicited or unsolicited). One that has cropped up a little is mindfulness, where you consciously strive to live in moment. Listen to your breath, be yourself, just do, just be à la Paul Rudd's Forgetting Sarah Marshall surf lesson: “Do less. No. Do more. Do less.”
I understand it means focusing on the NOW so that you're not always looking towards the future for something better, or towards the past for what was.
Well, that's all well and good, and I know that the practice can be beneficial, but I have to be honest. I want it to be 2017, I want this cancer fucking out of me, and I want the people at work and the people at JBar this weekend (where I paid $9 for a subpar smoothie) - to stop looking at me like that.
I wish for summer to be over. Me! The summer! My favorite thing on earth. I wish for there to be dark clouds and tourists fleeing back to the 'burbs. I wish for the winter, even, when it's be acceptable to wear soft hats rather than stifling wigs or baseball hats. I wish everyone would just stop it with the wet beach hair flapping in the wind against a peachy pink sunset and an American flag with a beer in your hand. I hate beer now and I hate you!!! (Just kidding.)
Aside from these low moments, which thankfully don't last too long - it gets especially more difficult to stay grounded and mindful when I'm faced with other people injecting their own ideas about cancer and my condition. I love talking about it, and answering questions, and if roles were reversed, I'd also be very curious. Most people are gracious and kind and ask, "Is this okay to ask?" like my friend's mother this weekend. And yes, it is okay, and I'm happy to discuss the topic. It normalizes everything. It makes me feel less like a freak, less like a sick clown with a wig on.
But. Then there are those who assume that--well, I don't know what they assume. They assume I can't read? That I don't have eyes?
Yes, I've heard of wheat grass shots. Yes, I've seen a dietician. Yes, I just beasted a turkey sub with mayo and my fingers are red from a bag of Doritos, but its Fourth of July and I'm going off the organic / healthy train for two seconds. I’m not going to tell you I ate spinach this morning; why should I have to outline everything I’ve done right, when you’re witnessing one five-minute stretch among countless others so far?
Then I go online. I know I should ignore the people who post neanderthal-level articles about cancer conspiracy theories, but they anger me to no end. There’s a cure for cancer - but all the evil doctors are just hiding it! So-and-so knows an aunt’s friend’s cousin’s sister who forewent chemo and she’s fine!
If only I'd been sucking on ginger roots for 3 hours a day and snorting superfood blueberry pellets or bathing in cannibis oil. Please, enlighten me more, Kid I Met Once in 2008.
I used to be guilty of this, too. Granted, I didn’t believe the ludicrous stuff I outlined above, but once I asked my mother, shortly after she told me my cousin had Stage IV breast cancer: “I haven't seen her in years - is she overweight”?
I cringe now, but back then I couldn't fathom breast cancer could be on my father's side. No no no no - I basically put my hands over my ears - it has to be something other than genetics.
And after watching my mother suffer for years, I'd tried to convince myself I could escape the same fate by adopting certain habits. Basically I thought, I may be "high risk," but I can lower that risk myself, thank you very much.
Number one was if I stayed thin, I would not get cancer. If I worked out regularly, if I ate enough vegetables to offset the double cheeseburgers and mac & cheese I ate by the boatload in college, I would not get cancer. If I had less than 5 drinks per week to offset boozing in my 20’s, I would not get cancer. If I kept my stress under control, if I worked at a job that made me happy and wrote out my worries, I would not get cancer. If I went off the pill, I would not get cancer, because it's can't be good to be on those hormones for 11 years straight, right?
I still got cancer.
I have some theories about the cause and preponderance of cancer, but more informed theories than before, information derived from my dietician and oncologist and nurses. I still think that exercising and eating healthily and organically are a good bet; they sure do help with my side effects. There are sinister ingredients in our food that enter our bodies and can to wreak havoc. But that's when you can start spiraling. Where does it end? "It must be something with the Cape." "Maybe you should have had kids, being pregnant is good for it." "Have you seen a homeopathic doctor?" And maybe I shouldn’t have gone off the pill and kickstarted my skipped period last year with estrogen, seeing as how now, the cancer I have feeds off too much estrogen. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But how the hell can you know? Answer: You can't.
I believe none of these factors alone are the CAUSE, they may be parts of a whole. I believe it can be partly genetic, partly environmental, partly hormonal; I believe it’s all these things patchworked together into a nice, neat cancer quilt. No one knows precisely why or how or how that patchwork can be rearranged to prevent or stop it, and those that deign to know are full of shit. Personally, I think some genes have been identified as future cancer markers but some have not. I suspect there is something unidentified in my family - despite me testing negatively in the genetic kit of 25 different genes. Or maybe not. Again, I can't deign to know.
I can only do my best at living a healthy life and ignore the cancer charlatans. That’s all I can do. And if it still comes back or someone you know gets it? It’s not their fault. Cancer is pernicious, elusive, fast-growing, and not yet fully figured out.
Oh, by the way, for the whack-jobs who say it's the chemo that kills you, not the cancer? Well, I pray these people aren't faced with a diagnosis one day. Truly. Plus I want to shake them and say:
Tell me chemo doesn't work. Yes, it's poison, and I wish there were a more effective alternative. But tell me I don't already feel my tumor shrinking. I'm eating the ginger and drinking the green tea and practicing the Reiki and throwing the raw hemp seeds in my smoothie like confetti, following my onco-dietician's guidelines. But tell me what else I should do or should have done, Kid From 2008, I'm all ears.
I know most people possess no ill intent for having these beliefs. We're all curious and worried for ourselves and our daughters and our families. We as humans aren’t huge fans of an unknown that can kill us. But sometimes, I feel crazy. Like I'm defending myself and my habits for the lump that grew in my breast. I asked my oncologist point blank - and this dude is one of the top cancer doctors in the country - "Is there something I did wrong? Something I ate or could have done to have prevented this?"
He looked me in the eyes and gave me a hard, "No."
PS: I want the sun to come out, and stay out, and the whole Winter is Coming Doomsayer Nicole has been quieted for now. I will try to be present and learn that this too shall pass, but not to ignore it. Not to wish it away.
PPS: I’m eating a Greek yogurt with fruit and quinoa/healthycrapmix granola and I had a green smoothie this morning and I biked for 10 minutes and stretched for 10 because that’s all I had time for this morning. Happy to tell you all about it. But hold off on article on rat piss soaked in skunk turds for preventing tumor growth. I'll read it a little later.