Is Cancer Curmudgeon A Secret Optimist?

The funny thing is, as I sit down to begin this post, I’m feeling pretty low and pessimistic. It is possible I write this to remind myself why I do…anything at all in advocacy/activism areas.

This notion began a few months ago as I listened to my daily diet of political podcasts. This one pod featured some female activists; I cannot remember what they worked on—Women’s March? Some random state election? My brain just cannot remember. The interviewer asked how these women kept up the energy and motivation to keep on keepin’ on. One of the interviewees stated that activists/advocates are optimists by default—how else would they have the wherewithal to continue “The Fight”. (Not the actual quote, just the gist.)

This struck a nerve for me. As I’ve spent the past 18+ months doing stuff with my local Indivisible, I’ve often thought all the marching and whatnot is just useless. The political, no, wait…the cultural climate in America is too awful now. My natural darkness leads me to think we are on the brink of another civil war. I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Shortly after the election, I joined a few groups trying to bridge divides, but I gave up on them. My lack of patience and lack of spoons (see note at bottom on “spoons”) means I refuse to allocate my time on something I think will not work. So how is that I continue to get up, keep up, keep going to meetings, keep thinking about the issues?

Could I be—GASP—an optimist? Clutch the pearls! I mean, how much electronic ink have I spilled on this blog moaning about how I just hate all this “think positive” crap? I mean, look at what I call myself for heaven’s sake! It is NOT an accident—I really am a Curmudgeon, and not just about cancer.

But-in-retrospect-being

But wait, hold up. I’ve also said that yes, I am a cynic—and cynics are just (bitterly) disappointed romantics.

I’ve found an uncomfortable amount of parallels in the political activism world to CancerLand. The drive to “be positive”, to use “fun” activities to get attention, for starters, are the same. And like in breast cancer, my point of view is: nope, this is horrible and we should shout out our anger. I’m not good with the “attracting more flies with honey than vinegar” thing. (Attract even MORE flies with shit, just saying.)

But the thing that has been knocking me for a loop lately is that even though I think nearly all is lost, I still get up each day and “fight”. I tweet, I go to meetings, I stay informed, I trained to be an official voter registration person—though I’ve yet had the free time to do an event. I have a murky relationship with hope, so I have no idea how or why I keep on keepin’ on—because I’m not sure it is hope that I have, exactly.

It is the same with this whole cancer advocacy thing, I guess. I still write this blog, though it may be sporadically. I still “believe”. Well, believe is a strong word. Maybe, more like….I am still willing to bang my head with a 2×4, in the hopes cancer culture will change, than all the things I find abhorrent—the forced positivity, the warrior language, the celebrities, blah blah blah—will if not disappear, will cease being the dominant narrative.

I haven’t been good at activism or advocacy on any front lately. Too busy, too scattered after the dumb car accident, too jittery. Too tired—always. I go to my “safe place”, I watch cat videos—the REAL reason the Interwebz was invented. I slowly get better. I get back at it.

No, no one can mistake me for an optimist exactly. But something forces me to continue trying. Probably the same thing that made me a cynic.

Note: Spoonie theory.

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Ass U Me

The universe tried to remind me of something last week: people like to comment on a situation, with an air of expertise, and they know NOTHING about that which they speak. Dear Universe, please, a less drastic reminder.

I was in a severe auto accident a week ago. I follow a local newspaper on Facebook because it helpfully posts accidents that clog up traffic–so I can use alternate routes if possible. This time I was part of the clog–tho I was NOT the cause (more in a minute). I noticed 18 (!) comments on the post, and wondered what on earth people could have to say about the situation. Ha! Things like, “that intersection is awful”, general derision about the state’s inability to reduce the accidents, and my favorite: “stop tailgating”.

All the comments are true; the intersection known as 5 Points (because it is a 5 way intersection, not a normal 4 way intersection) is a mess and the site of numerous accidents, and not just in tourist season. And cars do tailgate and get stuck in the middle and cause gridlock. But none of these things applied in this particular accident on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s what REALLY happened:

I was heading south on Rt 1 around 12:50 PM to pick someone up from an appointment, and was not using my own car for once. Traffic light was green and there were no other cars along side of me–highly unusual in that dreaded intersection. As I rolled along I noticed a car coming at my left. It seemed to be speeding up, NOT slowing, as it should’ve been. I started to brake, looking to see if I could swerve to get away. I was angry and scared, what the hell was this car doing, coming at me like that?! Next thing I knew I was spinning, I was being shaken, loud crunch, loud pop of the airbag as it whooped me upside the head.

The 2 kind men who pulled me out of the car filled me in on what happened, on what I could not see. The driver of the other car was sitting in the middle of northbound traffic, impaired/asleep/something and people had been honking horns at him. He came to, and just slammed on his accelerator, right into me, and then into another car heading east, as he had been heading west.

I don’t know why he was unconscious in the middle of traffic, and it doesn’t matter, ultimately. Point is, it was the main contributing factor in the accident, and it could happen at any intersection. Just like other locals, I moan about 5 Points and the poor driving decisions made there by frustrated tourists wanting to rush their vacation, or other laborers like myself, just trying to not be late for work or appointments. Numerous accidents there compile a bundle of stats citizens use in their attempts to get the State Highway Administration to take some action. I joined that stat pile I guess, except the idiocy of the intersection’s design really, really, made no difference this time.

Yeah, that tire can’t be put back on–the rod is broken, the brake line, all of it, just, severed.

I wanted so bad to jump into the comment thread and ask these people why they assumed various factors (and what happens when we assume–hint, look at post title). The newspaper’s post was short on details–it merely stated it was a 3 car accident, traffic clogged–maybe use a different route if possible. It did mention that one person was taken away via ambulance, it did not specify which person. I could tell them it was the driver who caused the accident. I had no detectable injuries. I still do not know what is going on with him. The car I was driving is damaged beyond repair. The pics of the damage are scary enough to make me realize if impact had occurred a millisecond different, things might have been disastrous for me indeed.

I sit here a week later, reviewing, finally emerging from a state of shock or stun, wrapping my head around it. Yes, I did attempt to go to urgent care later that day, but I had no visible problems and the facility I went to would NOT treat any head injury (mainly my ear hurt from the air bag). Hell yeah I was super sore the next day, but that cleared up within days. I’m still shaken, but I cannot afford to be jittery about it. I avoided the intersection for a couple of days, but my job requires travel through that area multiple times a day, so I had to get over myself. I’m not saying I didn’t curl up in a ball of fear for a day–that did happen–but it’s fine now. But I couldn’t help thinking about this, ummmm, shall we call it Instant Expert Syndrome?

Haven’t we all been through this as cancer patients? Especially with all the awareness now–this awareness that doesn’t lead to education and understanding? Lung cancer patient? Yep, people ASSume a smoker, because they’ve been told for years about links between smoking and cancer. So they cannot imagine other scenarios, that non-smokers can get lung cancer too, for instance. Any gyno-type cancer? Yep, the ASSumption she didn’t get pap smears, never mind that particular screening method is NOT for ALL the cancers. And the biggest ASSumption, that is my personal bug-a-boo, the conflation of screening=prevention. That somehow, it is a patient’s fault they got cancer if they did not do regular screenings. Or didn’t get a genetic testing (see all the judgement flung at Jolie a few years ago–ugh, I cannot revisit it, too awful). A few facts have stuck in people’s heads and they are unable to imagine OTHER factors, that they often do NOT know the whole story. And slogans like “screening saves lives” confuse people to the point they think “screening prevents cancer”, and we know that is so not true.

Now, here’s the part when a reader would say–who cares what other people think? True, I kind of don’t care what others think–about the car accident. I know it wasn’t my fault, and telling people crazy accidents happen at ANY intersection, even the most well designed, won’t make any difference. Not my job to warn people about it–that is what driver’s ed is for.

But I am re-committed (again) to trying  to educate/advocate/make-people-understand various facts about cancer. I’m tired of dumb stigmas. I’m tired of awareness without understanding. Again, er, still. So, still, I will continue to make others understand the reality of cancer, not the slogan version, to which they bring those incorrect assumptions to fill in the blanks of stuff they don’t know. Because, clearly, that is what humans do: create a story based on a few details–and are so, so wrong.

Epilogue:

Other fall out from this damn accident is me having to grapple with something I have submerged all these years away from DX–this need for safety, security, routine, predictable days. I’ve never been particularly  adventurous or a risk-taker. But after treatment, I just wanted nothing big to happen to me ever again–even something good if there could be a “trade-off” of no bad big things happening to me (I know that isn’t how it works, I’ve written posts about that). I just wish…the Universe hadn’t clobbered me again last week.