Cancer warrior

As I battle breast cancer, I see the grim reaper off in the distance trying to entice me into crossing over. But I laugh in the face of death. Anger may have contributed to my illness; humor is contributing to my survival

BY Tony Riss

October 26 2004 12:00 AM ET

I’ve
always hated tests. I’ve never done well on a test
until now. Metastatic breast cancer is a great test of
one’s will to live and to thrive.

The medical
profession refers to me as incurable. I prefer to think of
myself as incurably alive. I am not a survivor. I am a
cancer warrior. Breast cancer may kill me, but it will
never kill my spirit. I am now the proud owner of a
pair of cosmetic mounds and something called
projectiles. My body may look like a road map of the United
States, but I’m on a mission and have no time
for death. I see the grim reaper off in the distance
trying to entice me into crossing over, but I laugh in the
face of death. I am not ready to be another obituary in the
morning paper.

I’ve
become acutely aware of how hate affects me physically and
emotionally. Hate is a cancer, its only purpose is to
destroy. I’ve battled non-Hodgkin’s in
the past and won, but not for long. They now tell me
that it was a warning of a bigger illness to come for me.

For years I had
suppressed my anger at my dysfunctional family. For years
I punished myself because I could never be as
“perfect” as they thought they were. I
am an oddball. I am someone your parents might not approve
of. I am a nonconformist. I am weird. But more than anything
else I am truly my own person.

I believe that
although my cancer is genetic, it’s the hate I
carried around all those years that contributed to the
aggressiveness of my cancer. Instead of allowing my
hate to consume me I have now found a creative outlet
for my feelings. I’m angry about my illness, but I am
more upset over the way I’ve been treated by some
physicians. No one wants to be treated like cattle. No
one wants to be filled with noxious, carcinogenic
chemicals that are potentially lethal, while in a room with
other bald-headed, suffering people.

“Head
’em up and move them out,” is often what the
chemo experience has been like. It is hard to look
another person in the eye and wonder if they will be
in the chair next week. There have been times that I would
see another patient leave the room, and I knew that I had
just seen them for the last time.

And what do chemo
patients talk about? We talk about our illnesses,
compare notes and treatment plans; we talk about our
surgeries, and sometimes we share our scars. Sometimes
we talk about the future, unless we are told we
won’t have one. I am supposed to be dead now. I
should have been dead and buried three years ago. No
one knows why I am still here, some profess it must be
a miracle; some say I have the right attitude. I say
it’s because I am a bitch (Babe In Total Control of
Herself). I’ve stopped hating myself and started to
love myself, and I’ve also learned to let go of
all those bad feelings that festered inside me.

When you are
facing death, it helps to have a sense of humor. Through all
my painful treatments and surgeries I’ve found that
laughing at myself is the most loving thing I can do
for myself. Laughter heals the spirit; it also puts
those that care about you at ease. I certainly don’t
want anyone to feel sorry for me, but I do want people
to enjoy life with me. Who wants to hang out with
someone who is having a pity party?

Sometimes the
only thing you can do is laugh and hope that you will be
around to make someone else laugh. I would rather people say
upon my death, “Damn, she was funny”
rather than, “She lost her battle with
cancer.” Who wants to leave the planet being
remembered as a loser? The reality of any serious
illness is that you may very well end up dead, but
it’s because the body gave out; the human spirit
never gives up the fight.

Dying carries
with it responsibilities that most people would rather not
worry about. I’ve already planned my funeral: I want
to be cremated, and then I want all of you to send me
off with a New Orleans–style funeral. I want a
float and nude dancers, a Mardi Gras theme and lots of
beads. I want a celebration of my life before I die.
Tell me how much I mean to you so I can hear it, let
us reminisce about my quirks, my uniqueness, and my
purpose.

Don’t tell
me how much I mattered to you once I am gone. I want to know
today that I made a difference. I think sometimes we forget
to tell each other what we like about one another, and
then in death we remember. Funerals should be fun. I
believe most of us want to be remembered as we were
and not in some uncomfortable, expensive casket,
cosmeticized and embalmed so that we look like a rock.

Tags: Commentary

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