Monday, February 4, 2013

Metastatic Memories

I've put this off for a long, long time. In fact, I've put it off for a year and a half. I mostly discouraged myself from even considering the attempt, from the very beginning. I saw other people doing it, and I thought that although in some cases they were very successful in their undertakings, it simply didn't appeal to me. Something about it makes me squirm. It inspires me to fight to uncover any excuse in the book in order to justify my inaction.

What am I talking about? What is this terrible and ugly thing that I'm resisting with every fiber of my being? Because there are many things in life that I choose to resist. Things I refuse to take responsibility for out of fear or an inability to face the emotional and psychological consequences. As with us all, I too abandon certain nagging thoughts to the dark recesses of my mind. As with us all, I accumulate pain and guilt through a series of encounters with forces either beyond my control or not. And as with us all, I have many pervasive and lingering fears. In this case, however, I'm talking about the decision to write publicly about my experience with cancer.

Perhaps publicly isn't the right descriptor. Because, in fact, I've actually written a book about it that's currently being shopped around for publication. And there's hardly anything more public than that. I suppose what I mean, specifically, is the actual act of blogging. Blogging is a more accessible form of media. It's a series of intimate details about the blogger's own life. A projectile vomiting of unfiltered ideas that can be interpreted and analyzed with little effort. Constant postings that explain the character defects and neuroses of the author. Blogging constitutes a window into the blogger's very soul. It's a very public enterprise. I've always wanted my accessible thoughts, my public thoughts, to reflect a particular attitude or brand. I never wanted to be the cancer kid. Yet that's what I am. I wanted to be the carefree, mildly eccentric, live-life-on-his-own-terms, rock star personality that I so admire. I want to make people laugh. The last thing I want to do is make them uncomfortable. In fact, I don't even want to make myself uncomfortable (who does?), even though I've been in a constant state of discomfort, albeit unconsciously at times, since my diagnosis.

My decision to finally offer up a public record of my cancer fiasco is in fact an act of great personal courage. But I'm not asking for your admiration. Others may not find writing about their cancer to be very difficult. But they might struggle with something I find easy. That's the nature of being human. We all have our wars to wage.

And so my reluctance to blog about this has been covered by layers and layers of justification, buried deep with no hope of discovering why the resistance is present in the first place. Any time the topic is broached, I find myself saying, "Blogging? Well, shit, I wrote a book, for God's sake -- isn't that enough?" And I don't know the answer to that. Maybe it is enough. Or maybe, as a cancer survivor, I have a unique obligation to increase awareness and fight for those who can't fight for themselves. Possibly, and I plan to post more on this later.

But why the resistance to blogging? I did write a book. I wrote it while undergoing immunotherapy for stage 3 metastatic melanoma. A good bit of it, probably a third, was completed during my first month in the hospital, where I received the lion's share of treatment intravenously every weekday for four weeks. Days when I cried myself to sleep most nights, and struggled desperately to keep my sanity intact. But those images and feelings, those metastatic memories, are distant. My diagnosis, my surgeries, my treatment, all passed in a blur. And likewise, most of the actual writing did as well.

It's the paralyzing fear of revisiting these memories that keeps me from blogging. Now that I'm thinking clearly, and enough time has passed, I've gained the capacity for perspective. When something traumatic happens to you, it's very common to shut down emotionally in order to avoid the most terrifying aspects of your ordeal. And that's what I did. I functioned entirely on autopilot for a year and a half. Ostensibly, that isn't even a bad thing. In fact, I did very well. When you've severed all emotional connections to your circumstances, you can be anything you want. I was very courageous, and I'm told I was the glue that kept my family together after my diagnosis. I spouted contrived wisdom and used romantic ideals to comfort those closest to me, hardly realizing what I was doing. Some of the things I said or did are offensive to me now, due to the absurd oversimplifications I entertained or encouraged. Cancer is not romantic, and the smell of death circling above your head can never be effectively aerosol-ed. The mere suggestion that it can is offensive. And I was at one time the worst offender.

And so, after "waking up" from a year and a half of autopilot, a year and a half of embedded trauma, and a year and a half of drug-induced cognitive suppression, it's almost unbearable to look back over the events of the last year and a half without overwhelming terror. I've woken up to find myself alive, in working order, and surrounded by love and support. It's my responsibility to carve out a path from there. That in itself is terrifying -- what is life supposed to be like after cancer? How fulfilled can it really be? Do you stop taking shit from anyone, or anywhere? Do you adopt a no-shit policy? Is it okay to finally be selfish? Is it alright to ignore certain responsibilities, because you finally have your priorities straight? These questions and more are certainly worthy of extensive examination.

Personally, I suppose blogging will be an outlet. It'll allow me to finally free myself of some pervasive negativity, and maybe even relieve enough of my recently adopted neurotic behavior to once again function in the world at large. It will certainly serve to garner awareness for cancer, and that's a primary goal in my life these days. Because, as much as my experience has pained me and set me back in my own life, the thought of anyone else undergoing the same level of suffering is very hard for me to think about. I find myself tearing up every time I begin to read the account of another cancer survivor. Awareness is important, because suffering is only alleviated when there is enough manpower present to alleviate it. It isn't magic -- it's math. And all the publicity in the world won't help unless enough of us decide to act. Action manifests itself in several ways, and that's part of the reason I've finally decided to blog about this.

My account is detailed in my book, "Cancer Kid." But that isn't enough. I have certain goals I've sworn to meet, without excuse, and I plan to meet them. Blogging was not originally one of those goals, but it's going to help in several ways. It will hopefully help the public at large be more informed about the goings-on of cancer survivors. It will help me create a platform for myself and publicize my work, which will in turn increase awareness and further the fight. It will allow me the resources to fund the foundation I'd like to build. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it will free me from the fear I've buried so deep in my subconscious, and allow me to remember the important things in life.