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Some Days All You Feel Is Your Cancer

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Some days all you feel is your cancer.

You become acutely aware of its exact location in your body. You sense a specific dimension, volume, and mass. You must bear its heat and electricity. Its influence is omnipresent. Its focus sharp and malevolent. Your cancer desensitizes and deprives, aggravates and thrives. It is the pound of your headache. The loss of your memory. The distance in your eyes. The fear in your heart.

You must stop. You must breathe. You must endure.

Some days all you feel is your cancer.

So you rest and breathe, but each breath is affected, laborious. Even breathing frustrates you, pulling into sharp focus cancer's grip on your body. You are reminded of your past, of youth, of ease. As you increase your awareness of your body, you see cancer at work extending its domain. Your life is fragile. Your body is a factory, intricate and fallible. Its laborers unaware of you: their product. Unaware of cancer: their de facto boss. There are inefficiencies. Your heart can only pump blood. Your lungs can only move air. You can only watch and wait.

There was a merger -- God knows when or why -- that made cancer a mid-level manager. Cancer is fat, lazy, and unaware. It manages maniacally from a fluorescent-lit, second-floor office window. It calls this office the Thorax. It sports clip-on ties, wears khaki slacks with an elastic waistband and drawstring, sips French vanilla coffee from a Styrofoam cup, flips endlessly through real estate catalogs and Maxim magazine, dreams of what it might be like to touch a woman, and takes up space. Lots of space. It constantly and needlessly expands its space. Like our economy, cancer looks below the diaphragm for cheap labor -- the intestines, the prostate, or the liver.

Sometimes, cancer feels lonely. It imagines that life might be better if it weren't there. Thankfully, the thought passes. Cancer shakes it off -- just a little chemo brain. Incapable of a relationship with its coworkers, it sadly returns to watching cancer porn on the company dime. It isn't going anywhere.

As you continue to rest and breathe, you realize your mood is lifting. You like this omniscient perspective. Your imagination seems strangely unencumbered by cancer. Your imagination is a subversive and mischievous worker who steals the keys to the factory while cancer sleeps on the shitter.

You continue to rest and breathe and see where your imagination takes you.

Your cancer becomes a sloth of a roommate, spread out in its Spiderman boxers on your couch like Sunday on a Wednesday afternoon. It is most likely, and perhaps unbeknownst to itself, covered in its own urine. Its body provides habitat for an untold number of species. It lives life in reruns of Two and a Half Men -- remote in one hand and balls in the other. It is full of frozen pizza. It is content. And it isn't going anywhere.

You're getting good at this now.

Your cancer becomes a loud, patronizing drunk in an otherwise quiet neighborhood establishment. Its hair, held in perfect place by a visor, is as frosted as its beer mug, and it waddles, somewhat burdened by protein shakes. It is fresh from a round of eighteen, but its best hole is always the nineteenth. Emboldened by cheap lager, it can no longer stay in the fairway. Your table is now ITS table. Even though you are clearly having a conversation, it introduces itself by saying, "I'm not a racist, but..." And it definitely isn't going anywhere.

Your cancer is inescapable, but your imagination is limitless.

Some days all you feel is your cancer.

For me, yesterday was one of those days. My cancer manifested as a sore throat and congestion for the third time in two months. My muscles and joints were sore, my skin was tight and splotchy with rash, and a headache was looming. I realized that from head to toe, I have some form of Graft Versus Host Disease. Nine months post-transplant, I thought I would be past the majority of GVHD.

Life is heavy.

I have carried cancer -- or the worry of cancer -- for too long. Some days, my body is nothing but limitations. Some days, even my imagination falls in line -- only able to conjure the results of another ambiguous CT scan and the possibility of an additional four millimeters of cancer in my mediastinum.

Yesterday, there was nothing left to do but grab a blanket, close my eyes and try to rest. I breathed deeply, ignored the aches and pains, and fell in and out of sleep. As I rested, my imagination returned. I smiled, and we had some fun with the keys to the factory. As the daydreams developed, the walls of the factory faded to dust, and I was reminded that my body is not a factory, but an ecosystem -- a fragile, fallible, and beautiful ecosystem.

When I came back to the surface, our apartment was filled with a soft afternoon light, and my body was extraordinarily sore. I slowly opened my eyes. Afternoon shadows from the traffic on Damen danced on our tin ceiling. Aura sat quietly across the room, focused on a book. As I began to stir, she looked up and smiled. She removed her reading glasses, closed her book, stood up, and headed toward me on the couch. Without saying a word, she wedged her body between the cushions and me and rested her head on my shoulder. I kissed her forehead, lost some tears, and reveled in the weight and warmth of her body.

Some days all you feel is your cancer -- present, past or possible. It tugs at you.

Life also tugs at you. Life is not imagined, and it demands your attention.

Please feel free to post your own personifications of cancer. It's good fun.

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