Cancer’s life is a recapitulation of the body’s life, its existence a pathological mirror of our own.–Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
When it comes to cancer, I am no stranger. Diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoid cancer at age 21, I know the terror and disbelief that comes with hearing the words “you have cancer”. I was fortunate in that my tumor was caught early enough, and surgical intervention cured me of the mass that threatened to engulf my pancreas. Some argue divine intervention on that front, but I just say it’s dumb luck.
Cancer, biologically speaking, has been an indiscriminate killer for as long as cell lines have existed. At any point, any cell in your body can go rogue and become cancerous. In fact, it might happen regularly, but for those with healthy immune systems, the natural killer cells in the body immediately recognize and destroy the abnormal cells. When this system is affected, cancer strikes. I could go on for ages about oncogenesis and the history of cancer, but there are far smarter people who have written many a book on the subject. The Emperor of All Maladies is one of my favorite books on the subject, and was also turned into a solid documentary available on Amazon Prime. I urge you to watch that, and The Way of All Flesh, a documentary about the unsung heroine Henrietta Lacks, for amazing insight into the strides we as a species have made in the battle against cancer.
Leading up to my diagnosis, I had dreams that would ultimately predict the location and size of my cancer, but that’s another story for another day. Tonight, I write about a different dream from two nights ago that has me scratching my head.
I open my eyes and find myself sitting in a dirty, pepto-bismol pink hospital room. I am sitting on an exam table with the back support propped up. I am topless, but wearing blue scrub pants. I look down and see that my skin is much darker than my natural alabaster, and the hair I can see over my shoulder is black. I realize I am not in my own body. My chest hurts, and I notice that I have bandages across my breasts, or where my breasts would have been if they had not been removed. I ache deeply underneath the bandages, and paw feebly at the incision on my right side. It hurts worse than the one on the left. The bandages itch. I whimper.
Two hispanic women, probably in their 50s to 60s, are sitting to my right. They look at me with worry and tears in their eyes. They speak to me but I cannot hear their words. One of them reaches out and squeezes my hand. Just then, a doctor enters the room from the door to my left.
She is a white woman, very bubbly, with an abundance of messy red curls tucked into a bun on her head. She is wearing khaki pants and a white lab coat. She pats me on the left hand and I notice that I have an IV catheter placed in my left arm. I believe her name is Dr. Dee, or at least her name starts with a “D”.
“I know you’re nervous, but don’t worry, we’ll get you sedated soon so we can get your PICC line in and get your chemo started!”
I wake up at this point, confused, but back in my room, and back in my body.
I’ve never had a PICC or central line placed, as my treatment was surgical and not chemotherapeutic. I do not currently know anyone undergoing treatment for breast cancer. It certainly seems as if the woman I became in the dream recently underwent a double mastectomy.
This dream certainly has me scratching my head! Nothing about it seemed dreamlike at all. In fact, it was all hyper-realistic and disconcerting. I felt the pain and anxiety in this woman as realistically as if I were awake. Anyone else ever dream something similar? Was it tied to anyone you knew? Let me know in the comments!