Someone told me the other day, that at some point I should “forget about cancer.” As if cancer was something I could forget about. As if I could forget about the tightness in my chest from the seven surgeries, as if I could forget about the way the hormone therapy I will take for the next ten years at least makes my joints ache and my stomach bloat, as if I could forget when my schedule is littered with doctor appointments. It’s ridiculous. It hasn’t even been a year since I finished treatment, and frankly, I think I’m doing pretty well. Sure, I think about cancer sometimes. Of course, because I need to process what happened to my body as the medical system ravaged my health in order to kill some cells I didn’t even know were killing me. So yah, I think about cancer. Here are some of the other things I think about: the strange topics my undergrads choose to write on for their assignments like alien pregnancies, where to find hominy for the pozole I want to make, how to situate myself for an academic job, what to say in visa applications to make sure S and I can stay in the same country, when my large kitten will slow down on the food intake, and how many hours my ethics application for my new project will take.
So sure, forget about cancer. Do you know what word can bring me- and every other young adult who has dealt with aggressive chemotherapies, multiple surgeries, uncontrollably dividing cells- to my knees? Recurrence. Relapse. Do you know how many times I’ve heard that word in the past week? Once, when my doctor dissected the survival probabilities in relation to recurrence for each of my hormone therapy options. Once, when my cancer friend called me to tell me her cancer has migrated outside of her breast and taken up residence in places that the doctors don’t know how to heal. Six times, when I tried to articulate the cost-benefit of this and that hormone therapy to friends after my appointment. Ah, forgetting. As if. It lives in my body, the cancer-knowledge, and while I can live well with it, I cannot forget. To forget would be absurd.
And so onward. Just because I ask you a cancer-question, or tell you a cancer-story doesn’t mean I am obsessed. It doesn’t mean I only think about cancer. It doesn’t mean I need to forget. It does mean I need to share that story, ask this question, enjoy your four-letter response because profanity is basically the only appropriate response. Cancer will always be there. I will always see through this frame. It might become more or less prominent, the lens might change colour and the fear might erode, but it’s always going to be there. The scars zig zagging across my rib cage might fade but they are etched permanently into my body. They will heal, and fade, and change, but they will always, always be there.