Have you ever noticed that people pull out war terminology when describing the cancer experiences of others?
She died after a brave fight against cancer. He lost his courageous battle with cancer. After fearlessly combatting cancer in her youth, she lived to be a grandmother.
Cancer patients are nearly always classified as brave warriors. I didn’t really give much thought to this language until I became a cancer patient myself.
When I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, I was not brave at all. I was terrified out of my mind. My brain kept envisioning my slow, painful death, my toddler without his mommy, my husband without his wife. My stomach clenched; I couldn’t eat. My heart raced; I couldn’t sleep. And I spent the entire first weekend crying.
When the doctor sent me for follow-up tests, I was not brave at all. I was petrified. As a scientist, I knew that these screens would determine whether the cancer had spread to my liver, lungs, or bones. I knew that a positive result in any one of these tests would mean an agonizing death by cancer. I knew too much.
When I had my lumpectomy, I was not brave at all. I was afraid because I knew my chances of surviving would greatly decrease if the surgeon found too many cancer-containing lymph nodes.
When I underwent chemotherapy, I was not brave at all. I was too sick to be anything. My weight plummeted. I slept 23 hours per day. I didn’t have the energy for my 18-month-old son, my heart.
When my hair fell out in clumps, as I knew it would, I was not brave at all. I was mortified yet resigned to my fate. I had cut my long hair really short first. I still, more than seventeen years later, have my disembodied ponytail, the one thing I can’t let go of for some reason.
During radiation therapy, the price for keeping my breast, I was not brave at all. I was drained. The hardest part for me physically was already over. But emotionally, seeing too many beautiful bald kids in the waiting room every day for six weeks broke my heart.
When I was prescribed Tamoxifen for five years, I was not brave at all. I was resentful. I hated those pills, that daily reminder of my cancer, and I wanted another baby, but blocking estrogen meant delaying that possibility.
My treatment was not a fight. My experience was not a battle. My diagnosis simply resulted in a series of steps I needed to take in order to survive. I endured what I had to but I barely got out of bed for three months and that is hardly worthy of war-speak.
You could have called me many things during that time: terrified, petrified, afraid, mortified, resigned, sick, drained, resentful. Today, you can refer to me as a survivor. You can say I persevered. You can label me tenacious. You can even call me strong.
But please don’t call me the one thing I was not, am not.
Please, don’t call me brave.
This is yeah write’s NoMo writing challenge Day 2.