Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Take this Oprah!

I always knew I was meant to be a mother. Ok, not always, but since my early 20s. Since that time in most peoples' lives that they begin to question their place in the world, what they will contribute to this planet, their raison d'etre.

When I was searching for my purpose, for what I wanted to do with my life and how I could better the planet, I found myself frustrated by the fact I had no desire to contribute to a "cause". No desire to be an environmental activist or advocate for the poor. I've never been overly concerned with those macro issues, interested, but not concerned enough to really get involved in anything like that on a large scale. I never wanted to save the world and I felt guilty about that.

A deep longing to be a mother had overcome me during that time (and still now, although I am trying hard to let it go), a desire so deep that I literally ached in my uterus sometimes and had to preach at myself to use protection because I hadn't finished school or started my career. I would (and shamefully/painfully still do when I'm weak) walk through baby departments in stores and pick out in my mind clothes, furniture, accessories for my future child. I'd watch those birth story shows on reality tv and fantasize that it was me. I knew my time would come.

After some time and reflection I realized that I was put on this earth to be a mother. My purpose was not to affect change on this planet on any kind of macro level, it was to love and raise another human being pure and simple. Perhaps to love and raise a human being that would go on to make bigger changes in the world. But for me, I just knew my job was at home. In this life, I was to be a kind, decent, and caring person in my day to day life, and affect just the people around me in a better way. If we all could just commit to being kind in our daily lives, then there would be no war. That was my commitment to the world, and my purpose was to raise another human being who would learn the same compassion and pass it on.

This was a spiritual realization. I believed in my path, almost like it came to me from God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it. I also believed, on this same level, that I would have a long life, sure there would be pain and suffering, and there was, but I just knew I was meant to live a long full life, raise children, and make the world a better place by being a good, compassionate person in my daily life.

So now, I question my every thought and belief. What is the point in pursuing spirituality or faith when the messages you believed came from a higher source turned out to be mere fabicrations of my mind. Or perhaps this was to be my path, but things such as cancer and illness are out of the scope of God's control? A physiological accident happened, it was discovered at too late a stage for treatment to be effective, and now my path has changed?

There is no point in searching for meaning in all this because I can't trust the meaning I find. Gah! I don't know what my point is. Nothing too brilliant. I guess I'm just having a pity party and whining that life isn't fair. Why do people who don't even want kids get accidentally pregnant, or people who are ambivalent but just have babies because they want someone to take care of them when they're old get pregnant, while women who really want kids suffer from infertility or illness? I guess I just want to scream: Yes, bad things happen to good people! Good things happen to bad people! There is such thing as being lucky and unlucky, and a lot of what happens in this life is absolutely random! Take that Oprah!

I'm just so tired of feeling like this is my fault or people implying that I can change it with visualization or positive thinking. Let me see you cure your next cold with positive thinking, and let me see you cure your next bout of food poisoning by visualizing an army of white blood cells attacking the bacteria! That would never occur to these people, but somehow they think that cancer is different? Ya, it's different, it is a hell of a lot more serious, powerful, sneaky and deadly! It is also incurable at late stages.

Most people that are cured were lucky enough to have the cancer discovered at an early stage. Plain and simple. There are 4 stages of cancer, each stage tells you how far the cancer has spread from the primary location. 90% of breast cancer patients are cured. Same with melanoma. That is because almost 90% get the cancer cut out surgically at stage 1 or 2. They had some sign of the cancer early on in the disease and got it removed before it spread. The people that die are almost all (there are exceptions to the rule) comprised of people who were unfortunate in that their disease wasn't discovered early because there were no symptoms, or they were misdiagnosed, or they ignored the symptoms until stage 3 or 4.

When you find out if someone has cancer, find out what stage they are to know how serious it is and how likely they are to survive. All cancer diagnoses are not equal, as our media would have us believe. A lot of the "warriors" and "survivors" that we see on tv, I've mentioned Sheryl Crow before, we are led to believe survived because of sheer determination, positivity and strength of character. Nope, I dare say, they survived because they had itty bitty cancers in situ that have less than a 10% chance of spreading! Then they sometimes go through radiation or chemo on top of surgery just to make sure that the cancer doesn't come back.
Sure, the treatment sucks and they were scared, and lives changed forever. But the media makes them out to be these rays of hope and living testaments to the power of will and determination, when in fact, they were just damn lucky. The media perpetuates the myth that cancer can be beaten with positive thinking by not presenting us with the facts of the disease.

Lance Armstrong. Here is a lucky guy. Sure, his testicular cancer spread to his lungs and brain making him a stage 4 cancer patient, but wouldn't ya know it, Lance Armstrong happened to get one of the few cancers that are curable at stage 4! Even with metastases to the brain, our beloved Lance STILL had a 50% chance of surviving long term!Lance was lucky that only a few years before his diagnosis an effective chemotherapy agent was discovered to cure many cases of advanced testicular cancer! When breast or melanoma cancers spread to the brain one has less than a 5% chance of surviving five years because there is no cure for stage 4 of these diseases. What Lance had to go through to get cured was horrifying, but it was no miracle that he survived. And it wasn't because he was some kind of super human, a pillar of strength and determination. It wasn't because, as he says, he just refused to die. It was because he called heads and that's where the coin landed.

He had a 50-50 shot at his very worst. My cancer hasn't spread to any organs and I have way less than a 50-50 shot at survival because there are no effective treatments yet. Lance Armstrong didn't survive because he is a good person, a strong person or because he wanted to live more than anyone else does. His got dealt a good last hand.

Dana Reeve died of lung cancer, only months after she was diagnosed, as most lung cancer patients do because symptoms do not present until a later stage, when it is uncurable. Some suggested that she unconsciously just wanted to be with her late husband, Christopher Reeve, or that she brought it on herself by not taking care of herself while tending to Chris for all those years. The cancer myth in reverse. The truth is that Linda, from all outward appearances, was full of light, life, and positivity. She exuded peace, happiness, and strength in any interview I ever saw with her. She was unlucky that cancer developed in her, and doubly unlucky that she got a cancer that had a bad prognosis from the beginning. Simple as that. Life is not always fair, bad things happen to good people for no reason that we can understand.

I'm just going with the flow. What will be, will be. I think that is a totally ok way to go about coping this illness. I hope for the best, but I am realistic. We hear those stories of surviors who beat all odds, and attribute it to something they did or thought, when we have no idea why they made it and no doctor would claim to know. For every person that was "healed" by a healer or some herbal concoction, there are thousands more that healed spontaneously on their own. Because it does happen. Most people who survive advanced cancer, don't do anything special. And most people that do do something special or extreme die. That's the truth, reality. I live in reality and I'm sick and tired of ignorant misinformed but well-meaning people offering their misguided advice because if I reject it, they conclude in their minds that I just don't care about myself enough to "fight". Bullshit.


A recurring thought popped in my head today while I was getting marked by ultrasound for my upcoming surgery (oh, I haven't mentioned yet that my surgery to remove hopefully all the tumours in this Thursday, Oct 19th!). This whole process from beginning to now and I imagine forward has just been so damn interesting! Yes, quite horrifying, but I am always just so interested in how things play out, how things get done, the machines, the doctors, the process, the research.... I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but since it is me, I can often sort of step outside myself and watch what is unfolding as if it were a television docu-drama. Cancer, cancer treatment and support, and the emotional side of cancer (which I read a lot about) are fascinating subjects that I was 100% blind to before it became my reality. Through all the fear and pain and disfigurement, I am morbidly entertained by this whole process at times. Not in a funny ha ha sort of way, just in an awe inspspired, "that's neat!" kind of way. I suppose a psychologist would call that a coping mechanism. I'm a fan of coping mechanisms.

Ya, so my surgery is on Thursday. Apparently I'm not staying the night, but I'll really be surprised if I don't. If he actually does cut it all out, I'm going to have gashes in 2 places on my arm, my whole right armpit will be gutted and a huge area on my shoulder will be excised where there are 2 tumours. I'll definitely post pics. I'm going to have Frankenarm! Hey, that's the least of my worries. Well, come summer I'll be crying about it because I can't cover up the scars and my fat arm, but for the winter I'll pretty much be able to forget about it once the wounds heal.

As to IL-2 in Buffalo, it is a no go. If the tumours all come out, I can't have the chemo as I suspected. My onc in Toronto said "It'll just come back" when I told him I was having surgery here in London. I said, I know it probably will but we'll deal with it then. Seems logical to me to take it out, bang up my arm but give me some cancer free time. If it comes back, well, I'll just do IL-2 then. It's not like the chemo is a proven cure or anything, so why jump on it and be sick and miserable for weeks when I don't have to? And if it IL-2 doesn't work, then that will just lead into me trying every other chemo available which will make me sick for months and months. Why go down that road right now? I'd rather get cut up thank you.

Well, I guess I'll update after I get cut up, unless I feel inspired tomorrow. I still want to write about Hopes and dreams are just an illusion.... another time though.


At 5:14 PM, Blogger Carver said...

Good luck with your surgery Sarah. I'll be thinking about you.

As ever, Carver

At 10:38 PM, Anonymous nicole said...

Hey Sarah,

I've been secretly reading your blog for a few weeks now. I always feel a little guilty being a voyeur and not introducing myself but then again, I don't always know what to say.

Anyhow, I'm about to be 29, finished chemo for ovarian cancer 5 months ago and am considered one of the "lucky ones" since I was found at stage 2.

I love your writing and want to see you kick some cancer ass.


At 2:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am feeling so ashamed after reading your blog for the first time this evening. Seven weeks ago I shattered my ankle in three places, had surgery, have metal and pins, etc. I have been feeling so sorry for myself and whining incessantly. My normal life is interrupted, can't do what I want and on and on. I was very proud today cause I walked a lot with the aid of a walker. Tonight my leg is swollen and very painful. The whining began anew.

What on earth was I thinking? I am going to get well. It won't be that long before my normal life is back and I'm blissfully taking everything for granted.
Believe me, I am going to stop whining and be so happy for what I have.

My heart goes out to you. Your writing is beautiful and I so admire your strength. My prayers will be with you.

At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go get em tiger! grrrr. I agree with Nicole and go kick some cancer ass!
I'll be thinking of you...

love lizzy

At 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read your blog. Whew..you make alot of sense, and, geez, you are strong. I completely understand and agree with your perspective (very truthful, insightful, intelligent) Also, you are a gifted-writer..keep writing! (when it doesn't hurt)
By now you should be in surgery..Thinking of you, and keeping all digits crossed for you, Janette from the Netherlands

At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Cann't wait to read your blog after your surgery.

You are a truly beautiful writer. Could this be your purpose in life?

I believe you are inspiring and affecting many peoples lives by your writing.

You are a very special person

Think of you daily

At 1:24 PM, Blogger mrbunsrocks said...

Your reasoning and common sense and sheer grit, as always, amaze me.

You are such a clear thinker and I'm just bowled over by your fresh perspective - I've really never read anything like your blog.

I really hope your surgery went well and that healing goes well too. This blog should be a book.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Miss Melanoma said...

Que Sarah,
You go, girl! Fuck that positive thinking bullshit. I'm with you, always pissed at myself for worrying when I shouldn't be, etc., then I get that same thought- why the hell wouldn't I be worried?!? It's CANCER for pete's sake! I'm glad we're together on this one.
As for the destiny to be a mom, I'm very touched by what you wrote. Sad, isn't it, when we KNOW without a doubt what we should be doing and the universe stands in our way? When my doc told me I'd never be able to work around kids again b/c of my immune system, it crushed me, and I thought, literally, like you, "If that's true, I'll never be completely myself ever again." I'm back at work now, ignoring that advice, because, unlike you, I have a choice to do that. And for that, I'm sad. It sucks that you know your destiny and all the bullshit has gotten in the way.

I'm not going to do that cheesy "keep your chin up" stuff with you, but I just want you to know we all love you, and your blog means a lot to us.

Thanks for writing,

P.s. Oprah's going down.

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At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

Positive thoughts can help. Your Lance Armstrong information is not right...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance_armstrong#Cancer.

He actually only had a 3% chance of surviving. I believe his positive attitude contributed to defeating his disease!!

Praying for you!! Think positive when you can, and cry when you can. It heals as well.


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