I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.–Nelson Mandela
This is a post I started over a month ago. In truth, it is nearly 11 years over due in many ways. This story, this journey, is one that I have never told in its entirety. Before, I have only given it in bits and pieces to a select few people. Now, it is time for the telling, so that I can truly let go of some internalizations that I have held onto for over a decade.
This will not be a beautiful piece like I normally strive for. It’s ugly at turns, and raw. But a very real part of me that has been 11 years suppressed. This is my cancer journey.
When I was 21 years old, I was told that I had pancreatic cancer. I had to come to terms quickly with my mortality; far quicker than I think I was emotionally prepared for at the time. But I didn’t have a choice, really. I had to be brave. For my family, my friends. Above all, for my mother, who was not handling the situation well at all.
As strange as it was, I was not entirely surprised that I was sick. For months, I had been having dreams…
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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.
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