I Can Choose My Immediate Reality

choose the door

Cancer: A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. (The National Library of Medicine)

I’ve discovered cancer doesn’t just invade your body—it invades your entire life. It invades your waking hours and what little sleep it permits. When it isn’t taking over all your thoughts, it hovers on the perimeter of your mind—like a fluttering distraction in your peripheral vision. Cancer becomes your constant companion.

It invades your time with friends and family, by either hogging the conversation or morphing into the elephant in the room. And this isn’t always the fault of other people inquiring as to how I’m doing. Sometimes I feel cancer is all I have or need to discuss. Other times, it’s the very last thing I want to talk about.

Cancer invades your “real life” by requiring appointments with doctors and specialists, where it destroys any remaining sense of dignity by demanding to be examined by foreign eyes and cold, strange hands. It’s easy to feel dehumanized during these exams.

Forever the scene-stealer, cancer draws attention like flies to a carcass. Encounters with family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers can take treacherous turns. Casual mentions of a friend or family member recently diagnosed, or suffering through treatment, or, my personal favorite, dead from cancer—can haunt my thoughts and dreams for days.

Researching alternative treatments for cancer can be a slippery slope to self-loathing. A popular self-help author built an entire empire on the theory that we all “create every so-called illness in our body.” According to her we’re to blame for whatever ails us and the probable cause of cancer is “Deep hurt. Longstanding resentment. Deep secret or grief eating away at the self. Carrying hatreds.” As a psychologist, I’m well-aware of the mind-body connection. Too much prolonged stress can definitely contribute to health problems. But the theories this author pushes veer way too close to blaming the victim. The last thing a cancer patient needs is to be told she’s at fault.

Not even deliberate efforts to find entertainment and temporarily escape your painful reality are guaranteed successful. Suddenly magazines and the internet are full of articles on cancer. You’re blindsided by cancer plot-points in movies and TV shows promoted as light entertainment. With the turn of a page, an engrossing novel delivers the protagonist into the abyss of cancer!

To cope with the invasiveness of cancer, I’m learning to intentionally seek solace and joy while creating firm boundaries against negative surprises. I’ve strictly limited literature, TV programs, movies, or conversations having the potential to take me to dark places. That threaten the peaceful moments I’m able to collect during my days and nights.

I’ve made a practice of prayer and meditation, and have become an ardent fan of Pema Chödrön. Her words soothe and comfort and inspire. I’ve also read a lot of David Sedaris and Anne Lamott—anything that can make me laugh.

Whenever I’m able, I deliberately and mindfully create a small oasis of calm. I’ve learned I can choose my immediate reality. As I write these words, soft music plays on my stereo, a scented candle flickers nearby, and a vase of vibrant pink roses rests on the table before me. Life, at this very moment, is beautiful.

Now, I leave you with a quote and a request.

Cancer reminds me of a very bad but tenacious performer who, although no one wants to see, insists on doing an encore, having a return engagement, making a comeback, and, worst of all, going on tour.

~Valerie Harper

Women, get your mammograms! All readers, remind women in your life to get theirs! Early detection saves lives…it saved mine.