This week at the dermatologist’s office, the young woman behind the desk asked why I had come in, after I requested some skincare samples to make my visit more pleasurable. I pulled up my shirt to reveal heavy white bandages down my side, where I had had a few skin biopsies. “I’m a cancer patient,” I said. She then did that thing that most people do when I reveal my health status: she looked into the air around her as if searching for the perfect relative she could pick out from the oxygen surrounding her head. “My great uncle had cancer,” she found someone and proceeded to tell me about a bone marrow thing, not sure what, but I think it saved his life.
“Oh well, then, you know,” I said, being polite, because she certainly had no idea, as evidenced by her next comment.
“You’ll beat this,” she fisted the air with an imaginary pom pom.
“No,” I said, “I probably won’t.”
“Oh stay positive,” she cooed.
I replied, “You know I’m not really that sentimental about life,” which is true. “I mean when my number is up, that’s it.”
And then she kind of did get it. She got something at least, “Oh, so you’re just going to enjoy the time you have while you have it.” Yes!
Don’t get me wrong, I love life, but I don’t feel this grand attachment to mortality. In some ways, I believe we are all immortal and mortal at the same time. Our bodies are mortal. The rest of us…I have my beliefs but I’ll find out at some point. As will you.
This interaction got me thinking about the idea of “beating” cancer and just how silly it is. None of use will “beat” anything. We will live with it, whatever that “it” is for us, struggle through it, embrace it or not, until we die. No one cheats death. Nobody lives in this form forever.
As I come to accept my own death and as my attachment to this life gets less intense, the bonds I have with my body, my moments and paradoxically even to this life get stronger. I feel more plugged into it but less concerned with outcomes. The grand outcome is the same no matter what path I travel.
There are still things I desire before I drop this body. I’m not above vanity or wanting to feel liked and successful. I have moments driven by Facebook or Instagram likes. That’s all part of being a person today. There are a handful of experiences I hope to have before I die. But when I think of what those experiences are, beating cancer is not on that list.
I would love nothing more than to no longer have evidence of this disease in my body. I would give anything to have an easier path to the end and to be able to meter any future loss. But those things seem like empty focuses and nothing more than wishes or prayers. Because they are totally out of my control.
What is in my control is how I put one foot in front of the other towards the goals I have, how I take in each footstep, how I acknowledge the people around me at any given time. And, of course, keeping my medical appointments and continuing to make the best health decisions with the information I have. The rest of it – whether I reach my desired goals or “beat” this disease – well that’s that stuff of surrender.