I want to talk about the word “great”. Again, I’m so glad that I started this blog, so that I can ramble about things, without hijacking Livestrong’s well-intentioned Facebook post:
“Great” is such a funny word. Of course it’s great that Diem is fighting hard, and not taking no for an answer. The alternative would be that she is dead, and nobody wants her to die. She wants to be here. She smiles in the photos. She displays her positive attitude to the magazines, and I tip my hat to her. Maybe that positive attitude persists after the cameras are turned off, maybe it doesn’t. I know that I couldn’t even fake a positive attitude when I was in treatment.
When I was in treatment, the people around me used the word “great” a lot, too. It was “great” every time I weathered a new round of chemo, had a successful procedure, or got good news from the medical team. Thing is, they weren’t trapped inside my body. It wasn’t their fault, they did all they could to support and love me. They couldn’t go through treatment for me. All they could do was cheer me on from the sidelines. So they’d use the word “great”, and then leave the hospital or the house, or hang up the phone, and go back to their lives, leaving me alone and trapped with “great”. I always felt like the word “great” was more a descriptor for what THEY were going through, what THEY were feeling. It’s hard to watch someone you love go through cancer. How could they help but feel pure exhilaration, that I was responding to treatment, and utter relief that I was surviving? I always thought that if they could be inside my body, they would have chosen a different word. Of course, I was relieved that I was responding to treatment, but I just felt like such Godawful crap most of the time. There was nothing “great” about being in near-constant pain, having my intestines sticking out of my body, shitting in a bag, having a drain stuck in my butt cheek, constantly leaking poop, puss, blood, fluid, and mucus, and inhabiting a body that had been turned into a toxic waste dump. Look at that byline again: “Diem Brown Hospitalized With ‘Unending’ Pain”. Read it again. Her pain is described as “Unending”. Have you ever been in “unending” pain? I couldn’t fathom what pain was, until I was recovering from my debulking surgery. I was in agony for many, many weeks–desperately in need of narcotics, but unable to take them on a regular schedule, because the meds made me feel terrible, too. The pain, literally, made me crazy. It was exhausting. I felt like I hadn’t slept in weeks, even though I was constantly fading in and out of drug-induced stupor. My severed abdomen made it impossibly painful to lie down, so I spent all my time in a recliner. I’d hold pillows to my cheek, because I so missed that sensation. I became more animal than human. Cancer stole my dignity. Google Diem Brown. There are photos online of her with NG tubes, of her feet grotesquely swollen, post surgery, of her emaciated body–she can barely eat, because the cancer is shutting down her digestive system. Her kidneys are failing. They’re putting a tube in, the article says, to drain fluid. On top of it all, she’s stuck in the hospital, where well-intentioned staff are standing shoulder to shoulder with her in her fight, but are surely not giving her much peace, and definitely not an ounce of privacy. Now try using the word “great” to describe her fight. We can’t take the cancer away, we can’t endure the treatment in her place, all we can do is offer support from the sidelines. None of this is our fault. We are good people, who would help Diem Brown in any way possible. We also need to recognize that when we say it’s “great” that she is fighting so hard, we are describing how WE feel: OUR happiness, OUR relief…because death is so, so scary. I can’t speak for Diem Brown, but “great” wasn’t even remotely how “fighting hard” felt to me. What was “fighting hard” to me? It was pain, sickness, terror, depression, being poisoned and mutilated. It was lost moments, days, weeks, and months. It was torture, in the Shakespearean sense of the word. You have to be there and witness it, to fully understand the barbaric things that cancer patients go through, in an effort to survive. I was being trapped in my body, and the only person in the world who couldn’t physically walk away from it. I don’t presume to speak for Diem Brown, or anybody else, but I can speak for myself. Keep on reveling in how “great” it is when people fight for their lives, without giving up, because I know it makes you feel better, and less powerless. Then, as you prepare to move onto the next agenda item in your day, say a prayer for all the people in this world who are suffering.