Sideswiped by Sickness
Meghan Daum has an interesting piece in the New York Times: "I Nearly Died. So What?" Several years ago, she ended up in the hospital and, as the title states, nearly died. The piece focuses on what comes after she nearly died, particularly the expectation of what comes after. Generally, the narrative that a survivor is supposed to tell is fraught with lies and bullshit. I became a better person. I live in the present moment. I never take anything for granted. Of course, none of that is true; at best, you let yourself believe that it is. In theory, the sickness makes the bad thing that happened worth it, as if happiness and self-betterment are the only acceptable profits one may earn from struggling with the body's strong tendency to almost off itself. Daum's piece echoed my experiences post-breast cancer. In a few days, it will be three years since I was diagnosed. After a year and a half of treatment, I was cancer-free and not particularly a better person. And, oh, what a failure this is considered to be! I do not live in the present moment. I take things for granted daily. I am no more or less kind, patient, or generous. Something terrible happened, and then -- not because of my will or some miracle but due to science -- I got better. No one even really understands why, and no one can say for sure if the no-cancer status will stick. In the end, something will get me; there is no happy ending in life, only death. Still, online, women who have survived breast cancer prattle on endlessly about how improved they are, about how wonderful their lives are now, about how today is the only thing that matters. As if cancer is some thoughtful neighbor who brought by homemade cookies. It reminds me of the profiles I used to see before I got married when I perused online dating sites. Most of the men claimed to be "living life to the fullest." In their photos, they held up dead fish they'd caught. In their profiles, they referenced failed marriages and boring jobs. No one, it seemed, was living life to the fullest. How could they? It would probably kill them.