Cells Don’t Have Brains

Or: Why I’ll never write one of those “dear cancer” letters

Cancer is not a person, or even a sentient being, or even a separate life form. It is not an invader. Cells divide, that is what they do, except with cancer, it’s an anomaly of cell division. My cancer is just of my own cells running amok.

I see lots of “dear cancer” letters, especially in October, and they always make me uncomfortable. I know, I know, it’s just a way of coping with cancer. For me, it is sort of in the same category as going into “warrior mode” then “kicking cancer’s ass”.

Except I’m that jerk who points out that cancer has no ass to kick, not being a person or animal or whatever. This is one of the reasons I hate the “kick cancer’s ass” slogan—I won’t go into the bigger reason for that right now (see this old post Why This Smart Ass Does Not Kick Ass for early thoughts on the subject).

I’ve been writing this post, off and on, for a long while now—maybe years. I got started one day reading a post I heartily agreed with; a discussion on why cancer is not a gift (roll my eyes over that old cliché, gag!). I read through the comments and one patient vehemently declared, no, cancer is not a gift—it’s evil!

While yes, I certainly am on board with the whole “not a gift” thing—nooooo, it isn’t evil either. Without a brain, cancer cells cannot have purpose or intent. Without purpose or intent, cancer cannot be evil. Don’t get me wrong, it feels that way to me much of the time. My first reaction, like so many other patients, was cut this thing out of me now! I envisioned the classic “invader”, the idea it was some sci-fi “Alien” thing.

It took a long time, and I still must curb my thoughts and reactions, to ground myself and my view of cancer as some fantastical creature, some demonic possession to overcome. It is easier to think cancer is some evil invader, not one’s own body gone wrong, failing, betraying. Cancer is not sci-fi, it isn’t even alien. It’s just me, my cells—but gone wrong.

I have nothing to say to cancer, because cancer doesn’t have ears, so cancer ain’t listening. And yes, again, I realize letters are a coping strategy—like journaling or, cough cough, blogging! I realize many of us must frame cancer experiences as a story. And as someone who has shared her story via blogging, it is a bit unfair of me to criticize the storytelling of cancer—this beast or invader who must be met on a battlefield, and vanquished like a dragon or something from King Arthur times.

I guess some of my discomfort stems from a growing unease with the storification of cancer, and yes I do it too. But sometimes it strikes me silly. Like, did I battle the traffic to get to the grocery story, fight my way through obstacles (other customers in the check-out line), to emerge victorious and return home with my booty (groceries)?

I know, I know, having cancer is not as mundane as a trip to the store. But on the other hand, I fear making it too epic. I mean, maybe I have made it epic too much my own stupid self—I’m still blogging about it all these years later after all.

I guess what I’m saying is—my coping strategy is quite different. I NEED to know that cancer was not deserved, that it was in fact, maybe quite random. Something happened that triggered the cells to divide improperly—and it is just that simple. It is tempting still, to view my body as a traitor, but it isn’t. My body just isn’t smart enough to make a plan of betrayal—my body contains a brain, but each cell doesn’t have one. I NEED to know that my current status of not having any evidence of cancer is just a result of methodical medical interventions, not any of my lackluster abilities (because if it depended on me, well, I’d probably still have a tumor). I take perverse comfort in the randomness. At some point, maybe someone will discover cell division run amok is not random, that there are triggers, and I NEED to think about that, to know that science, not epic tales, will be the end of this.

*Special thanks to one of my clients, The Engineer, for playing midwife to this post.

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Rare Curmudgeonly Cheer

I am prone to shouting “this is why I love the Internet” when I see dumb stuff that makes me laugh. The meme with Joaquin Phoenix’s head progressing toward the east coast to represent the hurricane threat. A video of a bird throwing cups all over the place. Cat videos. Cat videos. Cat videos.

Oh I know, ire in comments and on Twitter, idiots sharing misinformation (“I’ll be right with you, someone on the Internet is wrong”—I love that cartoon), outrage at the slightest infraction, yeah the internet can be an ugly place.

But on the other hand, the Internet kind of saved me when I was in my white-hot-anger-at-Pink phase that October after treatment. Via blogging, and eventually other forms of social media, I learned I was not alone in my loathing of Pink—the rah, rah, the sexualization. Granted, I’m not as active as most, don’t have a huge follower base or whatever, but what little interacting I’ve done has been a comfort.

True, I’m a Curmudgeon, not particularly social, not as involved in the “community”—just my natural shyness and solitary tendencies (it’s an only child thing) at work. But, I know the community is there, and I am in it a bit. And I know there are thousands of patients who share my views and feelings. Knowing about those thousands became very important today.

I was in a conversation with a woman I run into often in my line of work—not a client, but another who provides services for my client. She is a very forward person—if she thinks it, she says it, regardless of tact. I am generally polite with most everyone, and try to keep my conversations about innocuous topics (“how about this weather?”). I tend to steer away deep discussions with people I do not know very well.

Today she brought up some NPR broadcast about how some cancer patients don’t like certain words—survivor and war were the ones she seemed to have latched onto—and how new words have been invented by patients. I think I’ve heard the broadcast she was talking about, but maybe not. Didn’t matter; I know this topic well!

She point blank asked me what I thought of these words. I calmly said I agree; I dislike most of the language in cancer. Of course, it is hard for me to not get very “deep” when discussing this topic and I found myself saying how much I hate things like “save the ta-tas”.

She said something like, “well, I think that is just how YOU perceive that phrase, that is not how—“

And I cut her off right there. I did so with great conviction.

I pointed out that yes, the intent behind that phrase is a clever, attention-getting ploy to “raise awareness”, but I am FAR from the ONLY person who dislikes the phrase. Not, by a long shot, the ONLY one who realizes that getting breast cancer often results in the amputation or mutilation of breasts—and how a slogan like “save the ta-tas” seems like it yanks support from the ta-ta-less, that it should be save the lives. No, there are thousands of us I told her. Maybe millions, tired and fed up with all the pink, with the baggage of October, of all cancer issues. I stated it as fact. It is not hard to find this anywhere on the Internet, voices raised in criticism of all the pink nonsense.

She quickly changed her tune, and pointed out that it should be about “saving the lives”. From there we progressed to a quick, but lively discussion about cancer, AIDS, patient blame.

Our conversation ended well—and perhaps I opened her eyes. Maybe not.

But for me the point was having that conviction. I KNOW there are soooooo many of us out there, loathing that old cancer-is-pretty-and-sexy thing.

No, it is NOT just how I perceive it.

Standing there holding my smart phone, I could’ve pulled up MANY articles that would prove that nope, it ain’t just me and how I perceive it.

As I tend to be less motivated to write blog posts for a number of reasons, I try to remember that every single criticizing post about all this pink crap—even if mine are on page 100 of a Google search for this stuff—are out there. The sheer number proves that NO, it isn’t just how I, or you, or anyone new to this breast cancer mess who just hates it, perceives it. When the newly diagnosed and disgusted are told, “that’s just how you perceive it, that silly slogan is harmless”—she can whip out her device and point out to all the ones who perceive it exactly the same way, and the ones who can explain why the slogan is far from harmless.

This is why I love the Internet.

(OK, OK, this post wasn’t exactly cheer, sunshine, and rainbows, but it is about as syrupy and cheery as I get. Next up, back to my regularly scheduled curmudgeon-ing.)

You’re A Mean One….

My fave piece of holiday wear.
My fave piece of holiday wear.

I have not been able to write and post lately. The final two months of the year are busy for a pet sitter, what with all the client travel. I’m so tired, when I sit down at any point and get online, the only thing I want to do is find Vines of animals mewing or barking, to entertain the pets I’m sitting. I really need to start making Vines of my own of my pets reacting to the sounds emanating from my devices.

The other reason is of course, I’m a Cancer Curmudgeon. This time of year CancerLand blogs are filled with posts about gratitude and joy, still alive in the face of cancer. I AM grateful to be alive after cancer, and grateful to be super busy right now—for the money, and the distraction that keeps me from focusing on my anxiety. 2014 has been my year of fear, and if I just keep moving, I don’t think too much. So I move.

It’s just that my blog is mostly an outlet for my rants, complaints, gripes, etc., and this time of year does not seem to be a good time to post such things. So I don’t. But that does not mean I have not found things that annoy the hell out of me.

I worry my curmudgeon-y-ness has made me incapable of seeing the good in anything. My ability to grouse even in the season of good cheer makes me think, oh man, what if I’m The Grinch?

I’ve found myself at odds with so many articles I’ve read about cancer lately. News tidbits that so many folks seem to rally around just piss me off. I do not like anything anyone says about breast cancer at all—whether they support the rah rah Pink stuff or criticize it. I don’t like Pink’s message, but I cannot seem to even agree with those trying to counter it! I don’t like anything—what is the matter with me?!! I am the worst breast cancer patient ever!

OK, maybe not. I’ve been doing some soul searching, thinking about why I blog, what I hope to achieve, etc., lately. I know I cannot offer counsel or advice, only a testimony of cancer as I see it, with the idea that if anyone sees cancer in some of the same way, they are comforted they are not alone in their views that are not exactly the “norm”. Because during and after treatment, I often thought, “am I the only one that thinks…”, I sought out blogs and began one of my own. I am the Cancer Curmudgeon, no more, no less. I notice whenever I tend to gain a few followers on social media, I lose a few. Guess I should post warnings about the nature of this blog and my attitudes more frequently. My only message is: if you think this, I thought so too. There are times I disagree with everyone, and everyone will disagree with me. “Oh well, whatever, never mind” (do I really need to list the source of that quote?). I hope that is enough for some.

Lovers of Dr. Seuss’s “Grinch” (the book and the 1966 cartoon, not that horrible Jim Carrey/Ron Howard film) know The Grinch finally learns the power/magic of Christmas, joins hands with the citizens of Whoville, sings that silly song, and carves the roast beast. So maybe being The Grinch is not all bad. I’ll likely never start holding hands and such in CancerLand, but I am capable of growing my heart—I hope that comes through in all of my grousing.

Maybe this post is just a roundabout way of saying: look out, more grousing to continue in 2015!