Sunday, 4 December 2011

God, the Devil and women who are stronger than me. (From June 4th, 2008)

It's getting a lot harder to tell people about my cancer diagnosis. It's harder because I have worked through the grief and the anger and the part about it being really really scary. It makes it difficult to tell people this horrible news, that really isn't all that horrible anymore. For one thing, the cancer is all out. The nodes were clear and the margins were clear and that means it wasn't spreading and they got every bit of the tumor. So it's weird telling people that I have cancer, when I don't and then having to explain that even though I don't have cancer anymore I still have to go through all the nasty treatments.

I've also shaved my hair completely, now. Before surgery I had buzzed it down to about 1/8 of an inch so I wouldn't have to deal with it when I was laid up or having difficulty with my arm. But I've shaved it down to the skin now. I just don't want to have to clean up hair from all over the house, and I think watching it fall out in clumps would be very unsettling. And it's weird, because I've shaved my head many times before. But for some reason knowing that it is because of chemo makes me a bit more protective of my bald head. When the landlord came to get the rent today I put my hat on. I think I don't want to make other people uncomfortable with it. It's totally different if it's a punk rock thing than if it's a chemotherapy thing.

There are a couple of big questions that keep coming up. One is the issue of Religion or Faith, when it comes to dealing with a health crisis. The other is the idea of it being a crisis at all.

Several times when people have been wishing me well in my journey through cancer they have referred to "this awful time" or this "terrible thing" in my life. And every time I find myself stopping and dwelling on that. Because here's the thing, in the first few days of the diagnosis it really did feel like my whole world was coming to an end. I was facing my mortality in a way that I never ever thought I would. I was dealing with the possibility of not being around for my daughter's wedding or graduation or even her first day of kindergarten. But as I have learned more and moved very quickly through the cancer process, I have come to realize that it's not an awful time in my life and it isn't this huge crisis.

For one thing, I have come to realize, in a way that might not otherwise be possible, just how much I am loved. Most people will go through their lives never really knowing. I'm sure everyone has days where they wonder if their friends really do like them, or if they just hang around because it's easier than finding a new social group. In a situation like mine people seem to flock to your side. And you can tell the ones who genuinely want to help in any way they can, and those who don't. I've heard people say that you really find out who your friends are when something like this happens, and I have found out that all of my friends are truly my friends.

For another thing, I am living in a time and a place when cancer really doesn't have to be scary. I have access to whatever cancer drugs my oncologist feels will do the job. I have access to a top of the line cancer centre, where emphasis is put on making the patient feel good all the time. And breast cancer really is one of the most studied, most funded, most curable cancers. It's going to be a hard road, there's no doubt about that. And I will spend the rest of my life with a little voice at the back of my head constantly asking me if the cancer is going to come back, keeping me vigilant. But as I said when I was first diagnosed, I am not sick. I am not dying. I'm going to be around for a long time. I also count myself very lucky that I am not in any real pain, and I will not be. I got a message from one of my cousins in response to one of my blog entries. She told me that my writing reminded her of her own struggles with her health. My cousin, Darcy, spent most of her twenties and a portion of her early thirties in a great deal of pain. I think she still lives her life in pain. My brother told me that the final diagnosis was junior arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which resulted in her having, just about, every joint in her body replaced. Her shoulders, hips, knees, wrists, ankles... I didn't see her at all during the time that she was struggling with her health. I think the last time I had seen her she was in grade 11 or 12. She played basketball. She was tall and beautiful and as the youngest girl in the family, I always really looked up to her. The next time I saw her was at my brother's wedding. I was shocked when I saw her. While my memory of her may have been based on an idolized version from the mind of a twelve year old, there was no denying the impact the years of illness and the many many surgeries had caused. She was much shorter than she had been and her body looked so frail. I cried. I remember feeling grateful that a whole group of family members were all converging at once, and it took me a while to get to Darcy through the crowd. Because I could not help but weep, and I didn't want her to see that.

When Darcy told me that my fears and feelings about surgery reminded her of her own struggles, I realized that what I was going through was small in comparison. I knew that very little of what I was to experience was going to cause me physical pain, and that in a matter of 6 or 7 months the whole thing would be over with. I began thinking about people who had been through much harder things. Like my friend, Kim, who lived with failing kidney's for years, until last year, unable to find a donor to provide her with a healthy kidney, her mother donated one of hers. Kim was rarely able to eat a meal that did not make her ill. She couldn't enjoy a Christmas dinner or a pint of beer without paying for it later with pain and sickness.

So now, when I start chemotherapy next friday, I will keep these women in my mind. Women who suffered far more than I will, with no certainty that it would ever get better, and still with no real chance of fully recovering. If chemotherapy gets bad enough to make me want it to stop, I will think of my cousin and my friend and know that I can get through this. I will know that there is an end in sight. And I will know that the pain or the sickness is me beating the disease, not the disease beating me.

Finally, I have been thinking about Faith and Religion. I am not a religious person. For the most part I think organized religion is the cause of most of the worlds problems. Often we hear about people battling an illness turning to religion to get them through. Many many people have told me that they are praying for me, and I have to say I am always a bit uncomfortable when they say that. Sometimes I am tempted to say, "don't do that." Without getting to deep into a theological rant, here's what I generally believe about the "god" with a capital G.

People have heard me say, before, that I believe in God the way I believe in Santa Claus. And here's what I mean by that. Lots of people give to charities at Christmas. Often, it's the only time they think about the homeless or low income families. Quite often it's the only time they ever think about spending time with their own families. But once a year for about a month people; buy presents for people they don't even like; purchase extra groceries to donate to the food bank (but only if there is a bin at the grocery store, so it is convenient), they might sponsor a family or attend charity fund raisers. But most people, only do this at Christmas. They do it "in the spirit of the season." They use Santa Claus as a reason to be nice to other people.

I believe that God is the same way. People who believe in God, who believe that God makes good things happen, also do nice things because God wants them to. Addicts who get clean and say that God helped them do it, are using God as an excuse or a reason to get clean, when in fact they are the one who did it. People who volunteer because their religion or their god requires them to, people who live their lives striving not to sin because God listed the things that were sins - they are basically using God as a reason to be good people. Just as most of us use Christmas as a reason to make a donation to the food bank (when we otherwise wouldn't), people who believe in God use Him as a reason to not be assholes. Which ultimately is fine. (Except for when they are assholes about it.) I've come to realize that, while I have spent much of my life viewing religious types as kind of gullible and stupid (to be honest), I really shouldn't fault people for having a reason to be good. I often feel like I want to explain to them that they can just be good on their own account, they don't need God for that. But what's the point?

Basically, I see God and the Devil as metaphors. God is a metaphor for anything good that happens in a person's life or for anything that seems unexplainable - even if there is a perfectly rational explanation. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods - these are acts of God. A person has a baby when they were told they couldn't - God did it. I once had someone tell me that God led her to drive up island the very weekend that her car broke down because He wanted her to get a free car given to her by a friend. (Maybe God should focus on the important things, like children dying of AIDS in Africa.) And when something bad happens to us, it is supposed to be God testing us.

The Devil, on the other hand, is a metaphor for the evil things that men do.

And perhaps the reason for laying all this blame and credit on these deities, is so that we can avoid any real responsibility. Because if I fall off the wagon I can blame God or the Devil and avoid taking any responsibility myself.

Ultimately it is organized religion and Dogma that prevent me from believing in any kind of God. Because for centuries, organized religion has been telling us how to live our lives and telling us that God said that our lives were to be a certain way. And in the end I can't believe in a God who cares more about who is in my bed than he does about children killing each other in the inner cities of America. And I can't believe in a God who apparently, wants us to continue to populate this already over populated earth at the expense of this earth that he gave us. But mostly I can't believe in a God who made cancer.

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