Cancer, you're an unfair bitch, you know that?
Here's the best photo we took that night, which isn't all that great (poor lighting, taken by the babysitter using my phone after Chris and I split a bottle of wine at dinner), but I am happy with my eye makeup. And my handsome husband.
As I was being beautified for my date, I got to talking with the makeup artist about cancer. His brother is a colon cancer survivor, and he was curious about what I was going through. I explained that mine was Stage 4 from the beginning, so I'm still in treatment.
And as he was applying my blush, he followed up with this zinger: "Didn't you feel a lump or anything?" which is kind of like asking a lung cancer patient whether they'd been a smoker.
This question, these types of questions get to the heart of so many excruciating feelings I carry with me (but am trying to shed). Why didn't I catch it sooner? What did I do wrong? Why me?
This question, these types of questions are looking for a smoking gun. I get it. We want to be able to explain cancer, to find the thing that makes us different so we can assure ourselves cancer won't happen to us. We want to have control.
It isn't easy to accept such a monumental lack of control. That is part of what makes cancer -- and life, if you want to extrapolate -- so frightening. So I control the things I have any say over: my attitude (sometimes), how I spend my time, who I surround myself with, what treatments I undergo, how much wine and chocolate I consume. What I cannot control is how any of those things will affect my outcome. Simply, I cannot control how long I'll live. I'm not that much of a superwoman. Yet.
When you're given a cancer diagnosis, though, you get bombarded with a million suggestions about what to eat (or not), what type of medicine to take, who to pray to, which surgeries to endure -- in order to (presumably) live a longer life. In order to pretend you've got some control.
Maybe I wouldn't have gotten cancer if I'd eaten less pasta, but I like pasta. And I know plenty of people who eat more carbs than I do and never develop cancer. Maybe I could get rid of my cancer if I had more Vitamin C (or D, I forget) in my diet, but so far as I can tell, the science isn't there. In fact, my oncologist and my naturopath have given me the absolute opposite advice about my Vitamin C intake, so I take a multivitamin and drink the occasional glass of orange juice, but I haven't opted for intravenous infusions of it. And maybe my double mastectomy was superfluous, as one oncologist suggested months after I'd had both my breasts amputated, but you know what? The surgery made me feel safer.
I go through periods of extreme second-guessing about what I could have done to bring this on. Then I stop beating myself up and remember the numbers. Also: why anyone? Here's the hard truth: one in eight women will get breast cancer. One in thirty-six will die from it. A harder truth? Half of all men and one in three women will get some form of cancer in their lifetime. Cells mutate for inexplicable reasons -- whether we practice yoga or never eat fast food or take our makeup off every night before bed. We can follow all the rules and still get cancer. It is that random.
We can pay attention to our bodies, we can catch cancer earlier if we're lucky, we can even prevent some types of cancer, and we can take care of ourselves so that our bodies are equipped as best as they can be to fight off disease. And then cancer may still show up unannounced, may still metastasize, may still take us from the people we love much earlier than we'd like. We simply do not know how to stop that from happening. Yet.
When you're given a cancer diagnosis, you do what you can to get through, even if you're just throwing a whole bunch of spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks. Plus, sometimes throwing things at walls is exactly what you need after a cancer diagnosis.