A damned fine year


I’ve been rolling a thought around in my mind ever since a conversation I had yesterday with my pal Christi.

Christi was kind enough to go with me to the doctor’s office to hear the results of my latest endoscopy. This is always a difficult moment for me, made more difficult by the fact that my doctor told us a week ago that there were “irregularities” that he needed to biopsy.

I spent a week convinced that my cancer was worse. After the first time around when I “had no cancer”, and then it returned, I’ve tried to hope for the best yet expect the worst. What could it be this time? This thought weighed pretty heavily on my mind for the past week.

“Sock it to me,” I said, the second my gastrointestinal doctor entered the exam room.

“No sign of lymphoma,” he said in his totally deadpan voice. I was expecting such bad news that I made him repeat it.

“I no longer see the signs of growing lymphoma that I saw four months ago.”

How can I describe the feeling I had then? It’s as though someone took me to the top of a mountain with a box on my head, and then suddenly removed the box. I felt like I could see for miles, into the future and the past, and I was light as a feather.

This diagnosis means that the treatment works! I’m going to keep up the Rituximab therapy, just in case any lingering “lazy” cancer cells haven’t woken up yet (Rituximab only kills dividing cells). I’ll continue to get chemotherapy every few months for a year-ish, but I know that when I do, it’s doing good things!

After the doctor, Christi and I went to get lunch at a diner. We dug into eggs, and I said, “If I’ve had cancer for a reason, it’s to kick my ass into doing all the things I want to do, because I’m a lazy procrastinator.”

“I’d rather not think of illness as ‘for a reason,'” Christi said, “Because then I get into the habit of thinking that if I do certain things, illness will go away. Illness can’t be controlled like that.”

This thought was interesting, because I cannot count the number of people who asked me how I figured out that I had cancer, along with the next question, “Do you know how you got it?” In the case of lung cancer, the victim blaming can be immediate: “Ah, it’s because they smoked.” In my case, it’s much harder to figure out how cancer snuck down into that one little section of my body. Believe me, the “how the hell did that happen?” has been on my mind too.

This blog has sometimes been about my search for natural means to help my body combat cancer. Much like Kris Carr (whom I critiqued a little in this article I wrote for XOJane), I believe that it’s a good idea to live healthily and avoid animal proteins as much as possible because they feed cancer cells. But cancer is not a tame disease. One excellent critique of the “be as healthy as possible” method comes from a woman named Abigale. She has a variation of Kris Carr’s cancer, and essentially says, this technique is great but it doesn’t actually combat cancer. In fact, she began to blame herself when it didn’t work for her, thinking she wasn’t strict enough or good enough with her diet, right up until she realized that Kris Carr’s cancer was a rare type that metastasizes more slowly than hers.

I was discouraged too when I realized that my cancer returned. The first time through, I did it the healthy way (without even knowing about Kris Carr). I avoided meat, meditated, and exercised hard, and the cancer STILL returned. The second time, I kept to my normal routine. I didn’t avoid meat or animal protein (in the form of my Starbucks addiction), I skated but didn’t increase my weekly amount of yoga, and I took my scheduled Rituximab. The cancer was equally treated.

What does this prove? That we don’t know much of anything yet about cancer. It’s great to be healthy for the sake of being healthy, but there are no miracle cures, and even keeping to the strictest of exercise, diet, and meditation regimes might or might not be useful to combat cancer (although strengthening the body is never bad).

I think it comes back to the idea that I’d somehow “earned” or “deserved” cancer, or that I had it “for a reason.” If all of these are true and it came back, then surely I was still “on the wrong path” and needed to be on the right one.

I reject all of this now. Cancer is just cancer, and I’ll deal with it in whatever way necessary, but (thanks to the words from Christi) I no longer feel the need to blame myself for it, or think, “If only I did __, I wouldn’t have cancer.”

The sad thing about our world is that we’re making it more cancerous every day. Perhaps in the end, the only true way to eliminate cancer is to help the world be toxin free, in whatever ways we can.

But after I got back to work from my meeting with the doctor, I felt so good that I didn’t wanna stay. The weather was beautiful and with my boss’s approval (thanks!) I was soon speeding down the highway, singing at the top of my lungs.

I was feeling sick, I was losing my mind
I heard about these treatments from a good friend of mine
He was always happy, smile on his face
He said he had a great time at the place…

Peace and love is here to stay and now I can wake up and face the day
Happy happy happy all the time, shock treatment, I’m doing fine

Gimme gimme shock treatment, Gimme gimme shock treatment
Gimme gimme shock treatment, I wanna, wanna shock treatment

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  1. Chava

     /  January 31, 2013

    I’m so glad you got good news. I think people ask ‘what caused it’ because we want to believe we have some measure of control over our lives. I know my reaction to my mom’s cancer was to immediately leap on the fact that she’d been treated with radiation as a child in the same general area of her cancer as the cause just because I didn’t want to believe that I would get it. I saw the same sort of behavior in the church I grew up in. People wanted to believe that if they prayed hard enough, lived the ‘right’ way that god would protect them. But yeah, in the end we really don’t have the control we wish we did. We just have to hang on with both hands, keep hoping and do the best we know and can manage.

    • Achariya

       /  January 31, 2013

      I completely agree. I wish there was a better answer, but we’re poisoning our world so rapidly that the only answer I can see for all of us is, let’s clean up our act. Let’s clean the world, we’re wallowing in carcinogens.

  2. Mandee

     /  January 31, 2013

    So glad you weren’t singing “I Wanna be Sedated” or “Girlfriend in a Coma”. ;P

  3. This is such a good thing to remember for both cancer and many other illnesses. Very often, they just plain happen, or they’re the result of genetic or environmental factors over which we have little or no control. Childhood stress, for instance, messes with endocrine development, and it’s not like the kid can do anything about it then. What can we do about all the hardcore smog most folks breathed before emissions standards? What can we do about things like lead paint or asbestos or BPA or HFCS that weren’t even on the radar when we were kids?

    Illness is scary, and people jump into the Just World fallacy all the time to keep their fear at bay. And the fact that there are some rough adult-behavior correlations with some things makes people believe they have control over not just those illnesses, but illness in general.

    Wellness, IMHO, is about doing what makes you feel well and cope on a day-to-day basis. Expecting it to be a vaccine against all sickness is tilting at windmills. Shit just happens, more often than not, and racing on the hamster wheel trying to beat fate just makes folks miserable in the here and now. Which, surprise surprise, actually can contribute to illness.

    Having a child now, finally, makes me realize how much of my life I really wasted worrying about all the things that are wrong with my body instead of just enjoying what time I have. I may die tomorrow, or I may live for another 40 years or more, but either way, what’s important to me is not how long I live but how well. Human lives are short, period, and I’d much rather fill that time with love and joy than fear and worry.

    I remain impressed with how you’ve traveled this path, and am overjoyed that you can, finally, see more of the view.

  4. I really love this piece. It’s as thoughtful and boundary pushing as everything you’ve written about your experience about cancer. The “victim blaming” approach to illness is a trap we all fall into at times, myself included. I’m glad that you saw a way to stop doing that to yourself. There’s clearly no One Right Way to deal with any of it and acting as if there is one is cruel and unfair to ourselves and others.

    I’m also really, really happy that your doctor find now signs of the lymphoma! Hooray!!! xo

    • Achariya

       /  January 31, 2013

      Thank you, C! (We have to hang out next time i am in SF!) It’s such an American way to look at illness, isn’t it? The “Rocky” approach. If you train hard enough, everything can be conquered. ❤ Appreciate your comment.

      • Totally! *cue montage and theme music* And we totally need to meet up when you’re in SF! 🙂

  5. I am so happy for you. Love your description of how the news made you feel. Your pic is great, it’s all You 🙂 the dress is so pretty & you rock it mama! Be free, be light ❤

    • Achariya

       /  January 31, 2013

      I feel pretty light ❤ Nothing like feeling that I can handle my own body & life again.

  6. Like MediatedLife, I think wellness is a coping mechanism. When I lost my pregnancies, I felt like there must be something wrong with me, like I could correct this problem with my defective body by being more healthy. Doing more yoga. Eating more beans. Whatever. But really, even if you’re healthy, shit still happens to you. And we get through it as best as we can, by being gentle to ourselves — which doesn’t always mean eating more beans.

    I have been offering up thanks for your good news … even at yoga tonight. 😉

    • Achariya

       /  February 1, 2013

      *hugs* Yes, I think “shit happens” is perhaps the most humble way to greet the world, acknowledging that it’s bigger than any one of us can do anything about. *more hugs*


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