“Ain’t it funny how it seems / that as soon as your born you’re dying.” – Iron Maiden
When the surgeon broke the news that I have stomach cancer, I didn’t flinch. Maybe subconsciously I knew this is what our meeting was all about, but even when he softly delivered the news, I didn’t crumple in dread. I just took his news, let him continue talking and waited to hear what we did next. I think part of what influenced that reaction was never once thinking that the endpoint of this process was death. I didn’t ever think, “Oh my god. I’m going to die.” The surgeon did quickly explain that my cancer is treatable, isn’t like the cancers we often hear about, and the survival rates are high. When doing my own research, I discovered the same. Yeah, this isn’t a “You’re walking dead” situation.
When the news spread to others, however, I think maybe the reaction wasn’t the same. I know I made a point to always clarify my cancer as “treatable”, but with so many other cancers, even treatable ones, ending in death, it didn’t really sit well with others. I get that. I also get that no matter if a cancer is treatable or not, whether the survival rates are high or not, the PROCESS sucks. The opening of the body, in ANY type of surgery, is a highly physically stressful circumstance with unpleasant after effects. Then there is the slow, controlled poisoning of the body through chemotherapy. THAT sucks. I’ve seen it first hand and I hate it. But to even draw a thicker line between my cancer and others, the chemotherapy is limited to a heated dose during the operation and then a 4 to 5 day dripped dosage the days following….then no more. There are no continued outpatient chemo treatments, which is a huge relief for me. I think after seeing the effects of this sort of extensive chemo treatment with my sister, that was the greatest worry for myself. This is all to say, my cancer is not the same as other cancers.
But let’s not split hairs here. I’m dying. Right now…as I type this…I’m dying.
It was only recently that I came to this awareness and acceptance, after feeling the deep emotions expressed by some of my caring friends who obviously held a great fear towards my predicament. Maybe after hearing of my news they harbored images of “traditional” cancer patients, bald-headed, weakened, afflicted by the ravages of continuous chemo, etc. Or maybe they fully understand the risks involved in surgery. Either way, their concern, fear, sadness struck me deeply, and I was forced to really think hard on the process of my cancer. It was, I realized, actually killing me. And for some reason I hadn’t thought of that. I was thinking about what happens AFTER the surgery, the recovery, the getting back to running. I wasn’t thinking about the present, the now.
But let me clarify further. I’m dying…but I’m not going to die. There’s an obvious HUGE difference there. (duh…right?)
I’m dying because the cancer inside of me has unleashed itself upon me and is growing, slowly, but growing. It is filling my abdomen, grasping on to various organs and infecting them. And there is nothing I can do about it. No matter how many organic fruits and vegetables I eat, the cancer is going to continue growing. No matter how many miles I run, the cancer is going to keep growing. No matter how many positive thoughts I express, the cancer is deaf, and is going to keep growing. Ultimately, left alone, it will grow until it causes organ failure and I die. Period. That’s the process.
In that…I’m dying.
But I’m not going to die.
Because of decades and centuries of accumulative knowledge and experimentation. Because of the development of technology. Because of Chemistry, Biology, etc. etc. etc. Because of more processes I could never fully understand, I’m not going to die. I’m going to be treated…and “cured”. And then I’m going to stop dying and start living again.
To reference the quote at the beginning of this post, our culture has, in my opinion, an insultingly tragic view of “time” that shapes our perspectives on living and dying. We define this view of time as “linear”, a Point A to Point B perspective, where the individual’s life begins and, despite using terms such as “growing” and “developing”, still is seen as moving to a final endpoint of death. We see ourselves as if on the top of a mountain, continuously moving downhill until we bottom out and cannot move anymore, allowing the perspective to define our quality of life. As we age we often accept a lesser quality of life, “settling down”, expecting illness and disease, letting the accumulated stresses build upon us as if unavoidable….but this is not written in stone. The abstract construct of linear time is just that, a construct. It is a false perspective that we can rearrange….if we look towards the truth of our physicality.
The physical body can define our perspective of time in it’s process of death, deterioration and regeneration. The Point A to Point B perspective in the physical sense is a process of continued dying. It is a body that starts to die and irreversibly ends in dying, but we know this to not be true. The physical process is not defined, but ebbs and wanes depending upon our forces into it. There have been those that have LITERALLY died, yet were revived back to a state of living.
And so if we look at “time” in this physical light, it is obvious that time is actually non-linear…laying bear our physicality. If we were to really get into it, in my opinion, it’s easy to completely negate time, or at least reduce it’s importance to irrelevance. To me, all that matters is the physical. We are here, as physical bodies, in a constant state of physical flux, on a spectrum of quality that is defined by how we live our lives. We have the option to see our existence in a non-linear perspective, not accepting the ravages of “aging”, but instead shaping our physical existence to continuously develop, grow, and achieve the greatest quality of life we can strive for.
The doctor told me I will likely feel unwell for six months. And I understand that…six months. I know how to measure that, but the physical body opposes the sense of fixed time, and holds its value in the ability to be shaped to our benefit. I know what six months is, but I also know what the effects of inspired thinking, physical activity, healthy eating, and social enjoyment are.
They are not dying. They are not confined by the Point A to Point B perspective. And so I’m not confined to a measured six month timeline, because I can rely on the physical self to alter that estimate. That’s all that matters, how I physically respond.
The most important thing here being, again, that my actual dying will be stopped…then reversed. My physical state will be altered so that I can get back to a non-linear existence where it is up to me to continue experiencing the greatest quality of life I can imagine, no matter what physical obstacles stand in the way.
And right now, that is all I care about. That my dying be stopped, that I avoid the dying risks involved in surgery, that I avoid the dying risks of chemo infection, and that I get back to living as soon as possible.
There is no defined endpoint. There is only the measure of our quality of life.