It’s National Cancer Survivor’s Day. I’m going with this picture to commemorate the day. It’s me, right after my last chemo in November 2014.
I think it says a lot. It says things I like to say and that people like to hear.
What it doesn’t say? Cancer: It’s terrifying, and expensive, and so lonely, no matter how much the people who love you try to love you during and after. And none of that has anything to do with how hard you “fight,” because that isn’t the way it works, and sometimes angry and depressed people make a full recovery and sometimes people full of peace and joy and light and positivity and do not. Because Cancer doesn’t care about your attitude. Or how much money you make. Or what kind of insurance you have. Or how you voted. Or if you’re a nice person, or an unkind person, or a religious person, or a person with a family. It doesn’t care because it’s not a person; it doesn’t strike because it isn’t a missile and it wasn’t aimed at anyone. All it does, really…is happen.
And I didn’t think so much about it before it happened to me, but now, just in the two and a half years that I’ve been in remission, it’s happened to so many people that I know and care about.
And I see them being strong and brave and wise and funny and–well, Ripley. They are all Ellen Ripley. Badass. The hero of the story. Not fearless, but enduring all kinds of things in spite of, and while continuing to experience, fear. Which is the actual brave part, because–and I am kind of only now figuring this out–you couldn’t be brave if you were never afraid in the first place. So rock on, you fantastic, bald, port-implanted, needle-bruised Ellen Ripley.
And I, well, I maintain that I’m Hudson. At least I have in the past. But you know what? No. As great as he is, I want to be Ripley, and we all get to be Ripley, all of us who have to go up against this thing that we REALLY DID NOT WANT TO GO UP AGAINST EVER. Ripley probably wants to fight an Alien Queen about as much as any of us want to sit in a chair and have poison pumped through our bodies. Some of us would RATHER fight an Alien Queen than have chemo, particularly Adriamycin.
So even though I kind of hate the “fight” and “battle” terminology around all of it, it’s not really going anywhere, because maybe that’s too much a part of who we are as a people. And if it has to be framed as a fight, I say every last person who ever has to do it gets to be the iconic, ass-kicking hero (if they want.) Even if you cry; even if you puke; even if you can’t even get out of bed sometimes, much less operate a Power Loader; even if sometimes you are too
much for the people taking care of you; even if you feel like it should somehow be transforming you as a person and it’s not, really; even if you find yourself still caring about things you never thought a person would still care about once this has happened but, surprise, you’re still you and you still do.
We’re all Ripley, which is definitely better than if we were all Spartacus.
So tell yourself you’re Ripley even if you’re sure you’re not and your achievement for the day was not puking up Saltines; tell your puny friend or loved one that they’re Ripley, even if you’re secretly just really over this and are approaching a point where you can’t anymore. (Because you’re a little bit Ripley, too.)
Unless you hate “Aliens” a lot and need me to stop because it has nothing to do with cancer and yet, here I am.
Happy National Cancer Survivors Day. You’re awesome and you’re doing great.
Even when you’re not.