This post is in praise of the nameless cancer patients who don’t have the energy to do much of anything during or even after treatment.
Feel-good stories run rampant on the internet, local news, and fake news shows like those idiot magazine and morning shows. A special subdivision of feel-good stories are the stereotypical cancer stories. You know the type: the cancer patient finishing school, running a race, or doing some event or another, all while juggling treatment and the rest of life. Sometimes these exceptional cancer achievers are featured in ads for various cancer non-profit organizations, and I’m again reminded of the saying I encountered when I first moved to CancerLand: “only the positive stories make it to the podium”. Lots of folks like to post these stories, calling them powerful or inspiring.
Looking back on my days of treatment, I am glad I was not very connected with social media. I was lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged me to listen to my body; if I was tired, take a rest, don’t push myself. I look at all these stories of someone putting off chemo to run a marathon and think, “I could never do that”. Or I see the governor of my home state posing with his bald head on the steps of some government building proclaiming how great he feels and I think, “well, it has just begun for him, the fatigue and other side effects are cumulative, ask him again in a few months”. Then I feel guilty for being so self-absorbed, for being tired, for comparing myself to others. Even now, nearly 5 years out from diagnosis, when I am done with my work day, I sit down and almost immediately nod off. (This is why I get so behind in reading and writing.)
It is natural to compare ourselves to figures we see in the media. Reams have been written about this topic, how young girls and women see images, cartoons or real starlets, and are set up trying to reach an unachievable standard. I enjoy seeing the attempts to counter the impact on the internet, campaigns about self-acceptance. Too bad that was not around when I was young. These images still impact me as I’ve aged; I mean I know that beauty product being shilled by the actress decades older than I—yet her face has less lines than mine—won’t really help me, but I consider buying it anyway. My point is, any media-anointed she-ro, whether a cancer patient or otherwise, is meant to inspire others to be more like the she-ro, and if that is unachievable, well, I don’t know about other folks, but sometimes I just wind up feeling like crap.
I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski”, and The Dude. While I’ve never decided to follow Dudeism (the sort of philosophy posing as a religion, or vice versa, based on the character), I cannot help but think some of its ideals should be embraced by cancer patients. Dudeists are trying to reach their version of Nirvana, which is just taking it easy, man. Take a nap! Abide!
No this isn’t some Dudeism recruitment post—as I said I don’t really embrace it all myself. But I do think there is some wisdom in taking it easy. This is in no way meant to knock those cancer patients who push themselves, run races, execute events, and all that. All I want to do is say hey, if you are tired and need a nap, for goodness’ sake, take it!
Media appointed cancer s/heroes create a standard or ideal that it is not necessary to reach, no matter how many times those less-than-supportive types around us might think. While, again, I was lucky to be surrounded mostly by folks who told me to rest when tired, I did encounter many folks (and still do) who see the image of the smiling, kick-ass woman (an image I have long fought, see Take the Mythical Image of the Strong Warrior Breast Cancer Survivor and Bury Her Once & For All) so omnipresent in breast cancer culture, and wonder why I’m not wearing a feather boa and marching. No thanks, I will put on my bathrobe, pour myself a beverage, and have a seat while pondering if the rug really ties a room together.
And I raise that beverage in honor of all the other cancer patients who also decide to take it easy, man. We may not get on TV, won’t get any media praise, but we are doing cancer right for ourselves.