I have been paying special attention lately to all of the words that people use to one’s relationship with cancer. It’s very common to hear statements like “Julie is fighting the disease” or “Bill unfortunately lost his battle”. I often hear patients in the chemo lounge talk about how they are going to “put a dagger in this disease” or “slay the beast”. Many patients and caregivers who deal with cancer view it as a war.
For a long time I also used these aggressive, combat-type metaphors. But now I am trying very hard to change my orientation from battling my disease to truly partnering with it. When things got very tough for me this past fall and the doctors were preparing me for the worst, I started to work with a healer. I tend to be a pretty logical person so even going to meet her was a big step for me. I was skeptical at first but I’ve come to realize with her help that historically I have had a pretty adversarial relationship with my cancer.
When people asked what is the key to my being so zen with regards to my situation, I often would say, “I am able to separate myself from the disease.” I wasn’t in denial, but I would go to chemotherapy and watch a movie or read a book. I never truly thought about why I was there and what I hoped the chemotherapy might achieve.
But now I’ve come to realize that we can’t truly heal ourselves of something we aren’t connected to. If we are putting so much energy into fighting the disease and trying not to associate with it, are we truly helping our hurting ourselves?
I’ve learned that while aggressively fighting the disease is one approach that may work for many, it definitely is not the only one. I now try to connect more with my cancer. Rather than separate myself from it, I acknowledge it, accept it and nurture it in a way.
I have worked hard to change my orientation with the disease and look at the seven years I have spent dealing with it as more of a partnership than a war.
Now when I go to chemotherapy sessions, I visualize what the chemo is doing when it enters my body. I meditate throughout the chemo and actively think about the liquid connecting with, and rebalancing my cancer cells.
This doesn’t mean that I am grateful for it and want to be my cancer’s friend. It means that rather than look at it as a battle where there is a definitive “winner” or “loser”, I partner with it and invite the cancer to leave my body. The reality is that medically, I just need my cells to balance themselves out. Not all of the cancer cells need to leave my body, just enough so that my body can tolerate them better (like any healthy person).
I used to have the common “winner takes all” attitude when it comes to cancer. I win or the cancer wins. I realized that this “all or nothing” approach took a lot of energy and was ultimately draining me of the energy I needed to handle the treatments I was given.
Although it is totally understandable why people are angry and frustrated and resort to these “warlike” metaphors, I really don’t think it serves us well.
Making peace — not war — might be a strategy that serves the cancer patient better. It directs our energy towards the healing process which we can truly be a part of, as opposed to directing our energy towards the anger associated with the cancer diagnosis which is beyond our control.