If I haven’t already mentioned it before, I’m FASCINATED by my cancer. I’m not joking. And I know it borders on the macabre, and maybe even insulting to others, but it’s true. In part, I’m fascinated by my cancer because I never tried to anthropomorphize it, by giving it intent, or consciousness. Cancer isn’t really my “enemy”. It’s…just..just what it is. It’s there. It’s physical. It’s a part of the world, directed by energy and evolution in the same way I’m directed by energy and evolution. We can place all this subjective morality onto everything, but ultimately, we’re just physical beings navigating our way through a physical world. Humans, mushrooms, horses, mosquitos, pine trees, planets…we’re really only separated in the most meaningful ways by our consciousness and ability to consider the happenings around us.
My cancer is no different.
And so I don’t so much “battle” or “fight” my cancer, as live with it, manage it, and do whatever is necessary to stop it from reproducing and surviving as it attempts to do the same with me. We are merely in a battle for resources and survival, just like everyone of us is in a battle for resources and survival with other people, organisms, processes and cultures around the world. It just so happens that the process I’m currently struggling with is INSIDE ME.
And that’s where my fascination begins.
My cancer isn’t an invader, so to speak, but actually a part of me. It is a part of all of us. We all have cancer, in that we all have cancer cells and they periodically reproduce. We also all have systems of checks and balances, however, which stop that reproduction. It’s a clean and efficient system that keeps everything moving along as we’d like it to happen. Sometimes though, systems fail, and that’s when cancer reproduces out of control, desperately trying to survive on the energy of it’s host, which actually keeps it alive. It’s a suicidal mechanism really.
Cancer is in all of us, but it’s not often the same. The typical representation of the cancer process is a tumor, a sort of dangerous bump, that grows on an organ and keeps expanding until it starts to cut off life support systems. That is a necessary simplification, but also just a starting point for laypersons. Cancer, as we also understand, also spreads. It leaves it’s home base and travels through lymph nodes to find other places to live within the body, to reproduce again, to make it harder to eradicate. That…is amazing. This unconscious, undirected process of cellular regeneration seemingly changes DELIBERATELY. It “gets smarter”.
And as unique as we all are as individuals, cancer is no different, so it inhabits and reproduces in the body in many different ways, eluding capture, escaping eradication, and does so on an individual basis. The saying goes, “We are all a statistic of one”, because each cancer is different, each treatment is different, and each person responds differently…making “THE cure” essentially impossible.
Which brings us back to my cancer and my fascination. So let me describe how my cancer works.
Where, from my understanding, most cancers start reproducing as a tumor in one location, affixed to one organ, mine is no different. But my cancer doesn’t just stay on that initial organ as a tumor, growing in size until it starts to choke surrounding life support systems…it actually secrets more cancer cells like..like…a cancer fountain. First, it starts as a tumor, which can be relatively easy to remove depending on the size and location, but instead of traveling through the body via lymph nodes or blood streams, like other cancers, mine grows until it ruptures through the peritoneal cavity wall and starts spewing out cancer cells covered in a protective “mucin”. This freakish, alien-like process causes two problems.
1. The cancer cells are protected by this mucin, allowing them to travel unharmed by both cancer-killing properties of the physical body, but also chemotherapy. The assassins can’t reach their targets. They’re shielded.
2. The protected cancer cells are free-floating, meaning they can drift around the peritoneal cavity and get into all the nooks and crannies of the snaking, overlapping, seemingly endless intestinal tract. All it takes is one cancer cell to begin reproducing again, so when you have not just a tumor to remove, but individual cells all protected and hiding and buried under bodily organs, the recurrences rate gets quite high as removing them becomes incredibly problematic.
Because of the way my cancer reproduces itself a special treatment was created specifically for this process, involving not only tumor removal through knife and blade, but also a “chemo wash”, which entails “bathing” the peritoneal cavity in a heated chemotherapy treatment for 90 minutes, effectively getting the liquid solution into all the nooks and crannies the cancer cells managed to work their way into. It’s equal parts hunting, equal parts hide and seek.
And forgive my enthusiastic way of describing this, but it’s FASCINATING. I mean, cancer is SMART. And by cancer, I mean the processes of life, of the need to survive, to adapt, to adjust, to do whatever it takes to survive in the context of all the world’s complexity. With the right perspective, one can even gain inspiration from cancer, from it’s self-preserving nature.
And, ultimately, self-preservation isn’t reserved for cancer, or “the wild”, or humans in economically troubling downturns…self-preservation is the baseline for existence itself. Self-preservation and our ability to continue onward during our abbreviated moments of existence and consciousness are all one process, interconnected, and undirected. They just are.
So, I can’t hate my cancer. I don’t want it, yes, but I also can’t see any reason to feel offended by it, to feel slighted, to feel ashamed, to feel punished, to feel like I’ve been dealt an unfair hand. I haven’t. I’m just a physical being among all the other physical beings in this abbreviated moment. So then, the only beneficial perspective for which to view my cancer is with fascination. I can appreciate it, respect it, and remain fascinated by it’s ability to preserve its existence, while acting to preserve my own all the same. This isn’t a battle or a fight. This is merely an attempt to retain resources for my use and not anything else’s – creature, being, or process. So instead of lamenting my situation and hating my cancer, I’m just going to stay fascinated by it, and express that same fascination for all the ways human knowledge has found ways to counter cancer tactics for our own benefit all the same.