Being ill sucks, trust me. This’s the second time I’ve taken days off school in the last couple of months, and i’m literally desperate to get back to the routine of classes. Long story short, I vomited down a school toilet yesterday morning, and was sick at home again two hours later. Although I’m feeling fine today, I have to wait 24 hours after being sick before returning to school, which meant I took today off.
A common phrase relating to the survival of a cancer patient is ‘they beat cancer’. Going on this theory, I ‘beat cancer’ too, just over 8 years ago. But no one beats cancer; no one truly survives cancer, either.
Fighting cancer is not the same as fighting a battle. You can’t win against cancer by having enough weapons, strength and moral support. You can’t just kill cancer with a stab through its middle and a victorious trumpet salute: it takes more than that. No one beats cancer, because cancer never dies inside you. Sure, technically I’m cancer-free, and have been for the last 8 years, and i’m so grateful for that, and for every extra day of life that the doctors bought me during those long years of aggressive treatment. But cancer’s impacts don’t just disappear – far from it. in my case, it has left me blind, vulnerable to further cancer and disease, genetically damaged – the list goes on.
There are cancer patients who have it worse than me; I know that, and I’m grateful that I have what I have. All the same, I didn’t beat cancer, and nor did anyone else.
For one thing, those who don’t ‘beat cancer’, who sadly don’t pull through – does that make them weak? Because they couldn’t ‘beat cancer’, does that mean they didn’t fight, that they weren’t strong enough, weren’t worthy? Of coursne it doesn’t, but there is nothing more obvious than this in that awful phrase. Cancer does not discriminate: old, young; rich, poor; black, white; boy, girl. each and every one of us has just as much of a chance of living through the battle against cancer as each other: even the strongest can fall, the weakest can prevail. All that anyone has is hope: hope for a life after cancer, hope for tomorrow.
Cancer’s effects are lifelong, there’s no doubt about it. Psychologically, it damages you, often beyond repair. Some people can change that psychological damage into a positive: seeing how fradgile life really is can lead to these people truly living their lives, treating every day as their last. They’ve seen how easy it is for a life to be terminated – how unpredictable cancer’s patient selection is. Others, however, live in fear, waiting for the next battle to come along, waiting for the inevitable message that they, or one of their loved ones, or one of their friends, has cancer.
Somewhere, in all of this, everyone has a bit of both. Those who live their lives to the full after cancer are still fearful for their health and for the health of those whom they love; those who live in fear still recognise the fradgility of life, and want to live theirs before it’s too late.
But no one beats cancer.
Cancer can’t be beaten until cancer doesn’t exist.
Only then will cancer be beaten.