A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about what it's like having cancer -- or, rather, what it's like not having cancer after you've had cancer. After that, I received an email from Todd Wineburner, about his cancer experience. I'm sharing his email here, with his permission, because he does a far better job of describing what cancer leaves behind.
"Several years ago, I patched your official head shot onto a bunch of famous nude artworks and sent them to you and you published them on the Reverse Cowgirl's blog. I've always appreciated that. I've appreciated your writing, too, and your recent entry about your bout with cancer really resonated with me. At about the same time I sent those pictures, I went through a bout with cancer of my own, and I think I know the exact feeling you're talking about. It's like there's a remnant of something still circulating through your body and your life, even though you know you're in remission (there's no cure, they tell me)--even though you know that you've lived to the point where the chance of a recurrence is barely measurable. I don't know that that feeling goes away, sadly. Your friend has a luxury in being able to laugh at your concerns and I think you'd be within your rights in defining that as insensitivity. I understand that she probably intended to ease your fears, but she needs to appreciate that for us and other survivors, a concern about cancer is not some vague, undefined apprehension about something we saw on the news. It's about taking a shower every day and encountering the places where a doctor changed us. It's about the memories of the absolutely surreal and disconnected feeling that comes from the anemia you get when the chemotherapy kills a significant percentage of your red blood cells. In my treatment, I had a massive exploratory surgery to check my lymph nodes. Like comedian Tom Green, my intestines were lifted out of my body and put back after the nodes between my kidneys had been checked. This is standard procedure for testicular cancer and they explain it all to you before they operate, but what they don't prepare you for is the day when your bowels start working again and the sensations are different--the pressures are in different places, the growls aren't the same at all. You've been rearranged at the most fundamental level. I still feel that way--rearranged. Not that it's debilitating, or even something that I think about often; things are just different than they were before the cancer and I guess they always will be. I guess they have to be. I've never really talked to anyone about this before, but I've never really seen anyone write about that strange sense that doesn't even really have a word to describe it. It's not disappointment, of course. With serious illness, there can always be more than one outcome and I think we both got the preferable choice. It's not really longing, either, or if it is, I'm not quite sure what it is I'm supposed to be longing for. It's just that strange sense that everything in my life changed when I had that cancer, except for the fact that everything pretty much stayed the same.
Thanks so much for your writing. It's great to occasionally find shared thoughts that let you know you're not nuts for feeling the way you do (or at least you're not alone). If you find a way to define this bizarre feeling, I hope you write about it. I wish you well. I'll keep enjoying your work and if I make any breakthroughs, I'll let you know."