Thursday, May 22, 2008

Say hey, Mr. Senator Kennedy, sir -

Right. This is an outburst of the kind of thinking and feeling that I normally endeavor to save for therapy appointments or venting to friends.

Senator Ted Kennedy had a big seizure and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. This catches my attention, even though I am doing my best to ignore as many Senators as possible at least until after the '08 presidential election. I have a malignant brain tumor myself, diagnosed after I had a big seizure. Sen. Kennedy and I have some other stuff in common - disrupted legal careers, excellent government health insurance, we're both alright for rich white people. He is way richer and far more powerful. I am younger, healthier and better looking.

I have a much better brain tumor than he does though - operable (near-full resection in 2001), right temporal. That it is on the right side means that post surgery I have a little more trouble finding my car again after I have parked it, and don't always recognize that I have met someone before. My language is fine. I still have my words. They implied I had 5 or so years to live when I was diagnosed at 29 yrs old, and these days (at 36 yrs old) I am thinking I have a decent shot at making it to 45 with a reasonable number of marbles intact. The scientific literature I have perused describes my kind of glioma as "indolent" (albeit capable of speeding up at some point).

Sen. Kennedy is old and has some other health problems. His tumor is in the left side (words) and seems like it might be pretty aggressive. That is all bad news. The article I linked said maybe 3 years survival for him, but didn't really go into his possible loss of function. It might be very bad and difficult, and all the treatments attack the rest of your body along with the cancer. That really sucks for him and his family.

So what is my problem? I don't hate Sen. Kennedy. I like him fine. I like his Irish whiskey nose and general legislative bad-assery, to the extent that I know anything about politics. I am not glad he has a malignant brain tumor. Nobody should be glad about anybody having a malignant brain tumor.

My problem is I am angry about some bullshit. The bullshit in that article and in all the other articles I read that reminds me of how angry I am about my own tumor. The bullshit in the articles that is pissing me off right now is the "He's a fighter" bullshit. I have a brain tumor - listen to me - SHUT UP. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.

Now listen:

Cancer doesn't care if you are a fighter. Your family cares - it helps keep their hopes up. Your doctors care - it helps them face you honestly and be good doctors to you. So, there are good reasons to be a fighter and it will probably make the whole process easier for many people.

BUT. I'll say it again, louder: CANCER DOESN'T CARE IF YOU ARE A FIGHTER.

I thought one time I wanted to learn how to fly a plane. My dad had done that for a while, until all the kids were born and he decided that being able to pay the mortgage and giving up a potentially fatal hobby were both good things. He sat me down and said I could only go for flying lessons if I understood that the plane was just a hunk of metal. It doesn't feel, it doesn't love me, it doesn't want to fly. It is matter with mass. Gravity works on it. A plane is a hunk of machinery that wants to fall out of the sky. Flying a plane is just keeping it from falling.

I eventually decided against lessons. And, cancer is cancer. It is not a demon or a bad mood or an enemy that shall be defeated with the right attitude and plucky can-do spirit.

Anyway. I am pissed off by all of those quotes in the articles about Sen. Kennedy's brain tumor about how he is a fighter. So - "Yeah cancer cancer, but he's a fighter, so everything is cool"? Or - "Let's start pretending he's already dead and he died with his boots on. Go us!"? Or, "He will survive this because I want him to and he deserves to live more than other people do!" To heck with those guys, except his son, who does have a right to say that - just like my Mom has a right to say it about me.

And for that matter - by all means, pray. Baptists, Methodists, Buddhists, Mennonites, Hindus, Catholics, Jews, and Presbyterians have all prayed for me at various stages of treatment and I have lasted a surprisingly long time in surprisingly good shape. I try to let everyone know that I appreciate their support and am keeping up a good attitude. That I am FIGHTING. It makes the people I care about feel better, but the way people outside the real personal situation of cancer talk about it sometimes just pisses the hell out of me.

This is just the luck of the draw. For all I know it is the Marlboro Reds that have been holding that sucker at bay all these years.

11 comments:

The Progressive said...

We seem to need to imagine that character and heart can overcome any danger. Sydney Pollack, yesterday, was said to be "battling" cancer. What does that mean?

On the other hand, we all know, or think we know, that "giving in" is fatal.

A bag full of holes. said...

As a fellow "fighter" (*cough*), I sure did love this post.
- @andreakremer

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