Sometimes I feel guilty about my cancer experience. I know–that sounds weird. It’s just that–well, I’m sure I’m not remembering everything accurately. I know I cried a bunch of times (but at that phase in my life I cried all the time anyway) and I remember being scared, and I remember it being this big overarching thing in my mind, but overall, everything went so smoothly, and I know that’s not something you can take for granted when you receive a cancer diagnosis. This is how it went: 1. Diagnosis. 2. Surgery. 3. Radiation. 4. No Chemo. And as far as anyone can tell, I’ve been fine ever since. Better, even.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t actually want it to go badly. I didn’t want to have chemo. I’m grateful none of those things had to happen to me. It’s just that–well for example, I have a friend right now who’s been diagnosed with another form of cancer, a lot further along and more aggressive, and she’s going through the chemo process–as we speak, I think. She’s an absolutely beautiful woman, even without her hair, but she is without her hair, and her body is wracked and she’s emotionally up and down and a lot of the time she’s fighting Fear, and I guess sometimes I just don’t feel like my cancer experience was really legitimate somehow. I feel like I got off easy, when other people don’t, and that it’s not really fair. I suppose there’s a part of my quirky and twisted little mind (which intellectually believes in the goodness of God, but doesn’t viscerally believe it all the time, and sometimes forgets I’m no longer a slave to karma) that also thinks the whole thing is going to come back to bite me with a vengeance, just because I didn’t have it “bad enough” the first time.
Then, compounding that whole self-inflicted dread is this even quirkier and more twisted fact: sometimes I miss that era. Two or so weeks ago I went for my six-month check-up with the Oncologist (actually, this time it was the Oncologist’s Nurse Practitioner, but for the sake of blogging ease, I’m just going to merge the two of them into one person). Apart from noting that I had gained weight, and observing that it must be because I’m happy and that it’s okay because “You’re active, right? You guys like hiking?” (Yes, but liking it and doing it aren’t always the same thing), she said I was in great shape and have nothing to worry about. And I walked out of that office, past all the photos of cancer survivors and their families smiling broadly, and felt a little wistful that the visit wasn’t going to be longer–that there wasn’t something I needed to do–to prepare for–some unusual test involving a radioactive injection to get nervous about or something. Everything was just . . . good.
People who know me well might guess that these admittedly warped and bizarre longings having something to do with my attention-seeking side, and they might not be entirely wrong. When I was in fifth grade (approximately 10 years old), a girl in my class broke her leg in a skiing accident. This girl was already pretty and popular, and her broken leg made her ESSV (Elementary School Social Value) skyrocket. She even let me sign her cast, although we weren’t, strictly speaking, friends, and I’m sure it was one of her less treasured signatures. I remember trying, in my own head, and maybe even aloud to my parents, to calculate the pain a broken limb would cause, relative to the amount of attention I would receive because of it, and I guess in the end I decided it wasn’t a big enough payoff, but I’m going to confess to you right now that through most of my life I’ve had strange and suppressed fantasies of some sort of enforced hospital stay during which concerned friends come to visit me and offer me balloons and flowers. Not so much because I really want balloons (I do like flowers), but just because of the gesture. I think, from various children’s stories I had devoured in my earlier years, that I’ve somehow also lived under the delusion that hospital food is good, in spite of having made many visits to others in hospital and noticing that what they’re eating doesn’t look particularly appetising. I blame Curious George.
Anyway, although my cancer surgery four years ago left me laid up in bed for about a week and a half, it was still an out-patient procedure, so I’ve still not had an overnight hospital stay. Which, again, I understand is something I should be glad about. And I guess I am, but I can also say that what I experienced during that time of dignosis and surgery and radiation and waiting and wondering and worrying was a whole lot of grace. People I didn’t even know sent money to help with hospital bills, and I was flooded with cards (one lady sent cartoons, considering laughter the best medicine) and phone calls and . . . again, maybe it’s all about the attention. But I think there is also a part of me that knows I never did deserve all that, but people offered it anyway, and there just aren’t that many opportunities to personally experience grace (unmerited favour) in that intense and tangible a way–and so sometimes I miss it. Not in the sense that I feel entitled to that kind of attention, or think it should be a constant occurrence, but just in the sense that I lived through a season of fear and felt God’s nearness in the people around me in an unmistakeable way. And so sometimes I feel nostalgic about that time I had cancer–and maybe that’s why I also feel a little guilty about it. Because in looking back, I don’t feel like it was a horrible time, or that I had to fight particularly hard to kick cancer’s butt. If anything, it was everyone else who did, for me. I just sat there and was blessed.
When the subject of my own cancer comes up, it is sometimes all I can do not to say, “Those cancer days? That was a good time.” Not because the cancer was good, but because God was, largely through the people who love Him. I know that not every person who loves Him gets off as easily as I did from their own cancer diagnoses, and that troubles me. But I’m also grateful. And every autumn, I get a little nostalgic.