Archive for February, 2010

What Cancer is Really Like

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

I received the following comment from a reader on my blog post My Psychology of Cancer, and I feel it is worthy and deserving enough to have its own special place. It’s for anyone who has suffered cancer, is suffering cancer, knows someone who has cancer or is looking after someone with cancer. Or for anyone one else who has an open mind and a warm heart.

I too had cancer a couple of years ago. Mine was not one of the cancers that people so freely talk about. It was ano-rectal cancer. People didn’t know what to say or how to react when I told them I had ano-rectal cancer. I could not understand the reaction. As they averted their eyes, I wondered what questions were poised to blurt out of the dropped jaws. Were they embarrassed by the mention of the anus? Were they trying to figure out how I went to the bathroom after surgery? Were they wondering “How does one get ano-rectal cancer?” The answers to those questions set in order are: I bet they were. I bet they were, but I would never say. Lastly, I wish I knew – it, like many cancers, just happens.

Lung cancer they could understand, breast cancer they could understand and even have 5 km runs to support research. But ano-rectal cancer! Who gets that!?  I could see the embarrassment on their faces. Ironically I found myself trying to assuage their discomfort. It was very difficult to explain to people that I had no idea how or when or why, just that it was a frightening diagnosis. I was numb. But decided there was nothing to do but to hunker down and fight…fight…fight! The alternative tact was one I never really gave thought to – which was to ignore it and die.

After the diagnosis, I was coached by everyone, even total well-meaning strangers on staying positive through treatment. I was also given a CD, by a wonderful nurse, herself a breast cancer survivor, who advised that I to listen to this CD every day after radiation as it promised to “guide me through the wellness …

My Psychology of Cancer

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Five years ago I found out I had cancer and collapsed in a heap of self-pity.

It’s a life-changing diagnosis.  My first thought was to find out how I’d gotten it.  The list was endless.  I wanted to blame something or someone.  Smoking, drinking, prescription drugs, the pot I’d smoked celebrating the start of the Millenium, rampant city street pollution, global warming, global cooling, too much phenylalanine, breathing in petrol fumes at the local garage filling my car up, macramé weaving I did in high school, my mother, my father, too much caffeine or maybe yet not enough caffeine.  Or was it simply a genetic mutation?  I needed a visible enemy, something I could focus and narrow my sights on, vilify, blast out of existence and eliminate from my life.

I was told I would never find a reason, it just was.

So after two weeks of intense depression I made the very counter-reactive decision to embrace, hug and love my cancer.  During that time I had to work out what that cancerous growth meant to me.  I meditated and visualized this bilious, sulphuric yellow, encapsulated, dangling malignant mass hanging off my left kidney, deep south of my heart, with the potential to kill me and learned how to become friends with it.

Twenty-five years ago my husband and I moved into our present home.  We painted the living areas what we thought was a beautiful shade of pale yellow.  When we finished we discovered what we thought was a light, sandy colour had turned our house into a hideous bile-coloured womb, rather like being trapped inside a renal cell carcinoma.

I spent a month living inside those four yellow walls.  During that time I was also going through intensive psychotherapy with a lot of pernicious and invasive transference issues so for me my cancer represented my many bitter and self-hurtful thought processes and self-destructive tendencies.

I smoked during my cancer.  The stress of knowing the worst had happened made me latch onto the cigarettes like a hungry baby onto its mother’s breast.  This is, I believe, not unusual.  A very good friend of ours, a highly academically intelligent man, once …


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