People always tell me writing is therapeutic, and while I of course believe this, I never experienced it so viscerally until I began this post and the next.
I’ve mentioned many times in various posts that I loathe the battle language of cancer (the most pointed example is in The D-Word). I do not call myself a survivor because I have not died of something else yet, and some with Stage IV have animosity toward the word, rightly so. Battle, fight, warrior, kick cancer’s ass—all those words or phrases continue to rub me the wrong way, and I never questioned why. I guess I just assumed myself to be practical, pragmatic, and I’m just not the cheerleader type.
Then, I started a post about how the drop-off in activity and in amount of people in a beach resort town on Labor Day is similar to the weird quiet that happens when cancer treatment ends. It is nearly impossible to explain this kind of sudden absence of people, attention, and activity to those who’ve not experienced it. So I began writing and thought I should include some examples of beach life, what my experience has been living and working here all of my life. And that is where I veered off track. But as I wrote, I learned that this life I’ve led that is so entwined with the rhythms of beach life really influenced my way of thinking about cancer in ways I am still understanding. I learned something about myself…grrr, no, wait, I mean…good!
So this post is about how life-long residency at the beach shaped my views as a cancer patient. The next post, Labor Day, will be what started me thinking about it all.
Shopping Madness at the Beach
A couple of careers back, I worked in retail. Working in retail is a special kind of hell. At the beach, it takes a peculiar turn, especially on rainy summer days. All the “sister” stores under the management of the area supervisor are two hours away in the cities. The supervisor and staff members of those city stores never understood rainy beach days; at least while I still worked there (this was several years ago). Rain at the beach makes people shop and spend lots of money. So a GREAT business day would result, in which sales would be as much as ten times the normal day. Well, income-wise it would be great—but days like that are trying, customers are grumpy and angry at staff as if we caused the inconvenience in their vacation, the store would get destroyed, a lot of theft would occur, and it took a lot of work to restock and recover. In short, we earned our minimum wage and then some on those days.
When reviewing sales increases and decreases on a later conference call with other area stores, our beach store would get accolades on the “great day” and invariably would get asked, “what did you do?” Saying “it rained” was not an acceptable answer. “You and your staff should take credit for such an awesome day,” someone would chirp, probably a cheerleader type. I never would and here’s why: if I said “yeah, we sold the crap out of those t-shirts, we’re awesome, hurray for us,” that would mean I’d have to accept blame for the opposite. A store is always compared to the sales of the same day the previous year. I HATED days when it was sunny, and I could tell by the ginormous sales numbers from the year before that it had rained. “Why are your sales so much lower this year compared to last year?” the district supervisor would ask, sternly. And yes, again, “it rained on this day last year and this year it is a totally sunny day,” is not an acceptable answer. Someone had to be held accountable, for not leading, selling, motivating and what have you. But I refused to blame myself and the staff for something beyond our control. We could not sell t-shirts to people who opted to take advantage of a great beach day rather than go shopping.
I’ve been dealing with the influx and outflow of people to the beach, how that impacts things like traffic, how busy the grocery store will be, and just a bunch of other quirks I could never explain, for most of my life. But now I see how my resort business approach shaped my view of cancer.
I never took credit for a good thing that happened when I did not have anything to do with it, like rainy day sales, because I did not want to be blamed for not making it rain when sales tanked—because I cannot control the weather.
It is the same with cancer. I will NEVER blame anyone who dies of cancer as someone who failed to “think positive to overcome the disease” or who “just gave up, did not fight hard enough, a LOSER”. Those people died because cancer kills, and cancer causes death because medicine still cannot stop that. Cures still seem pretty far out of reach. The latest Pink Ribbon Blues essay reminds us that there is no link between positive attitude and surviving cancer. Treatment effectiveness was NOT a result of my adoption or rejection of “warrior” status.
Conversely, I am not going to label myself as some kind of cancer ass-kicker. I may be frustrated at the medical industry for not being as far into conquering cancer as I’d like, but I know that leaps have been made and I benefited directly from the current successes in medical knowledge, and from the decisions of my medical team. I did not kick cancer’s ass because I’m so positive—I am a curmudgeon when it comes to cancer, after all. And I’m lucky enough to not be Stage IV.
I’m glad the drugs and the medical team were effective, me and the insurance company (and the money I paid into my insurance plan) paid enough for those things, so I shouldn’t need to do any ass-kicking.
People throw around terms like optimist, pessimist. I just try to be a realist. A life of beach business brain got me here, apparently.