It appears I just cannot leave this one alone. The cancer networked media-sphere is popping, overflowing with blog posts and angry Facebook status and pissed the f*ck off tweets. I just have to echo… what the fuck? It seems we have a man-doctor cancersplaining. Deathsplaining. Mansplaining He’s doing all kinds of f*cked intersectional splaining. Because didn’t you know, cancer is the best death? At least, according to this doctor who has never had cancer, according to this one old white guy, Dr. Richard Smith, cancer is the best way to die. He writes:
So death from cancer is the best, the closest to the death that Buñuel wanted and had. You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.
This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.
Buddy, I got something to tell you, and so does everybody else who has/had cancer: it sucks, and there’s often not time to say goodbye or reflect, to travel far and wide or tick items off a bucket list. In fact most of the time, time is spent in hospitals, feeling horribly ill, attending doctors appointments, having blood drawn. It’s horrendous. But others have said that better, already, and I won’t repeat it.
What I will say is this: when you’re horribly ill whiskey loses its appeal, almost entirely.
And also, this: stop wasting billions to cure cancer? You do know that there is no cure, and that cancer has no regard for whom it strikes. What about the young father? What about this young woman, who wanted live sincerely? What about the brand-new PhD, searching for her first academic job? What about this beautiful young newlywed, who didn’t want to burden her family with her slow and painful demise? Cancer would be a good death for these people? Cancer was a good death for these people? Fuck you. These people were right smack in the middle of living awesome, and the world needed them so badly, and cancer stole them. It was not a good death. And millions should be spent, billions, trillions, to avenge their deaths, and to hold the lives of those most affected by cancer, those most affected by aggressive cancer, those most affected by little access to cancer health care as central and important. Communities of color, adolescents and young adults (15-40), LGBTQ people, poor people, rural people have a harder time healing from cancer, curing cancer, dealing with cancer, accessing cancer-related care. GET THEM WHAT THEY NEED AND STOP SAYING STUPID SHIT.
Like have you been watching movies where people die of cancer? Shockingly, real life is not like movie life. Maybe the doctors doesn’t know this because he’s a privileged white man and he’s never felt that disjuncture, between the narratives we watch in movies and the in/mobility of bodies that exist on the margins. Maybe he can live in fantasy-world, where knowing you will die makes the end of life balmy, and whiskey makes it manageable. But I certainly don’t think he gets to claim that on BJM until he gets a passport to the world of the sick, a passport with stamps to scans and chemotherapy and surgery. A passport to a world that has no place in movie-life.
It seems so odd, that in a culture where death is so taboo, we talk about cancer being a good way to die, because suddenly we can talk about death? Dying doesn’t give us the language to discuss death. It mostly only gives us anger, misunderstanding, tears, and a desire to crawl under the covers and never come out. We need language, rituals, communities, ways to talk about hard things like death. Because we apparently have none, or have such emaciated rituals and traditions surrounding death, we have to invent.
Maybe it isn’t odd at all- after all, there’s that ill-informed saying “live like you’ll die tomorrow.” If you actually do that, you won’t be parachuting or traveling to new countries. If you actually live like you’ll die tomorrow, you will have no way to metabolize that information and you probably will feel intensely tortured. I know it’s a saying, but sayings are situated in ideologies, and it’s a stupid saying, a saying that reflects a wild misunderstanding of death and total inability to actually talk about death.
So if it were me, I’d want to die in an instant. Here today, gone in the blink of an eye. No warning. No medicines. No prolonged discussions of percent chances or new treatments or tentative trials. Just, dead, and suddenly. And frankly, I think that would be easier for those I love, too. I want this doctor to receive a chemotherapy infusion, and watch as their friend cries big, giant tears because it’s so hard to understand why this is happening. I want this doctor to buy out the organic grapes in February because that’s the only food their partner can stomach because the medicines have made total muck out their partners’ intestinal lining. I want this doctor to sit in a waiting room and wait for a doctor to tell them if their loved one survived a surgery. Cancer is not easy on families. Cancer deaths are also not easy on families. It ain’t a cake-walk watching someone you love die, for a long and drawn out time, especially when there are no rituals and there is no language. It’s hard to invent mid-crisis.
So, I add my voice to the many voices calling out this stupid blog post. I couldn’t help it. Now turn away, and look at the blogs written by those with metastatic cancer, with those who are dying, with those who cannot roll their eyes enough at this stupid post. I mean, really? Cancersplaining? Really.