Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On Life and Death and Cancer

People have asked how the diagnosis has changed or affected my thoughts on death, and life. In some ways, I feel it is too soon to tell. I often find that I feel like cancer is this thing that happened to someone else. I went away for 7 months and in my place was another Laura, who went through all those terrible tests and the more terrible period of waiting that followed, who went to chemo and felt sick, who lost her hair. That Laura had cancer. I'm just a girl with a sassy, short hair cut.

I have these moments of revelation, probably once a day, where a voice in my head whispers, "you really had cancer, that really happened." At the oddest of times, while washing dishes, or looking at the beautiful temples of Angor Wat. Hardly ever while looking at my short haired self in the mirror.

The voice whispers other things; sometimes she isn't very kind. She thinks every ache is cancer, ever tremor is a permanent side effect of chemotherapy. She's my least favorite part of myself, the part that is too willing to be negative and wallow in self-pity. I guess she too is like a cancer, a cancer that I have to keep at bay. How to do that is something I'm still figuring out but I certainly don't want to give her room to grow and spread.

I wonder if other people who've been though similar experiences feel this splitting of their personality. On the one hand, I really feel exactly the same. I came through this an unchanged person. The person who existed before the diagnosis is still very much here except....she has a visitor. The whispering visitor, I'll call her. I now have moments where I feel like I am outside myself and inside myself at the same time. And the me outside myself is whispering about how the places I'm in or the people I'm with will still be there whether I am or not. She is telling me about how life will go on, without me in it. How my husband will continue to do the mundane, like go out for meals; how my sister will continue to go to work and cut hair; how my parents will still sit in their backyard on the deck, chatting away warm summer evenings. How everyone and everything I love will still be here, even when I am not. It is comforting and it is distressing. I want those lives to go on, to be happy and joyous and the thought that they will even if I'm not here to see them brings me comfort. But the though of my life without me...I don't care for those thoughts much.

My life has changed and it isn't just because of the whispering visitor. Right after my diagnosis, in the minutes after hearing the news, while walking down the hill from the hospital to catch a cab I cannot tell you how clear and vivid everything looked. Even as I contemplated what I had just been told, another part of my brain was noting how bright the colours were, how sharp the edges of things looked. I don't think I've ever seen more clearly. I still have flashes of this. Moments where I feel like I am looking though different eyes. The world literally looks different. Not all the time, not permanently, but for fleeting minutes it looks different. I would even say it looks more beautiful.

So I guess cancer gives gifts too; not nearly as many as it takes, but cancer can show you beauty you didn't see before or give you gratitude for how lucky you've been in ways you didn't always think to acknowledge. I didn't realize that something so horrible could also make space for positivity. Before my diagnosis I always figured I would just shut down and lay in bed if I ever got such terrible news. I know now that isn't the case; that I can face adversity and still see all the ways it can be amusing. That is certainly a gift.

Sadly, the one thing cancer hasn't changed is my ability to procrastinate and waste time (particularly on the internet). I had hoped this would be one of those things that would change, that I would start "carpe diem-ing" all over the place but I guess some personality traits run a little deeper than pesky cancer cells. Oh well, there is always tomorrow!


  1. Loved your thoughts! Thank you for sharing.

  2. I heart you so much right now.

  3. It's not just you. I'm the same way. I am willing to bet that most members of our exclusive club feel the same. It hasn't changed over time either....the split is still there but so am I and I'm willing to deal with her and her stinky attitude in exchange for all of the wonderful I have in my life :)

  4. I feel the same, I feel as though I have a sister who had cancer but it wasn’t my “real" sister. It was just a person in her place, who was really good at being my sister. Some days, I feel as though this was yesterday and in others I still have the hardest time grasping that my sister had cancer. One thing that cancer has opened my eyes to is how incredibly beautiful you are, inside and out. Love Cat