There’s a lot of talk of fighting when you get cancer: “I’m battling cancer” or “the fight of your life.” My favorite is “fight like a girl.” If you read obituaries, you’ll find that no one dies from cancer without first fighting “a courageous battle.” It seems like you get cancer and suddenly you’re a warrior.
But I don’t feel like a warrior. I would never want to slight anyone who feels that way, but for me, getting through this has been just that: a matter of getting through it, of outlasting the cancer cells and slogging through the treatments. It’s a trudge: one foot in front of the other. There are prescribed steps but no guarantee of success. From biopsy to surgery to chemotherapy to radiation, most of the course of my treatment has been laid out for me. There were some important choices to make, but after researching the options, I mostly concurred with my doctors’ recommendations.
I have often, through these months, held an image of myself as an inert participant in my treatment, being pushed or pulled along a path while I have shielded my eyes from looking too far ahead. I’ve imagined my oncology nurse dragging me through the months of chemo, while feeling the hands of family and friends pushing me on. I have felt like I’m not so much doing something—fighting—as having things done to me, while I hold myself together and withstand it all. I have tried to keep faith that this will all be worth it, that the job of eradicating every rogue cancer cell will get done and not need doing again.
Cancer treatment has felt like a time separate from the course of my life, during which I’ve had to follow a digressing road before I can get back to my life. It’s a diversion, albeit a lousy one. Looking at it this way has allowed me to be gentle with myself, as I pulled back from my writing and design business, from volunteering, from doing pretty much anything but the minimum required to keep my family and me moving along through these many months of treatment.
On my birthday last summer, shortly before I started chemo, I got a delightful note on Facebook from one of my first childhood friends. He wrote about our long ago summer days. “I know what would make you feel young again. How about a game of LIFE on your front porch? You can get pink twins and I can get blue ones. Don’t forget your life insurance policy.”
It was a great memory from a fun childhood together, and a wonderful thing to recall so much further along on our own meandering paths. As a kid, I loved The Game of LIFE, from its plastic molded hillocks and pegs-as-people to its money and seal of approval by Art Linkletter—“I heartily endorse this game.” My neighborhood friends and I spent hours and hours on my porch, spinning and moving our cars and hoping to make it to Millionaire Acres. And as we took our turns and the game played out, I remember trying to imagine how my own unseeable future would unspool.
I learned last year that another of my neighborhood friends, the note-writer’s sister, now has stage IV breast cancer. I’m sure that she, like I, never would have envisioned cancer as a part of her life, until the day it was. What little kid would ever imagine that, playing a board game with her friends on an endless summer day, spinning the wheel and wondering what life will bring?
The Game of LIFE’s tangled path feels like an apt metaphor for this part of my own game of life. I’m taking one of those side trails now that make the trip around the board a little less direct and a little more of a challenge. I have to acknowledge that I may not finish out the game the way I’d hoped. But there is nothing to do but spin the wheel and move my car, count the spaces and follow this path I find myself on.
Here’s my game these days: a blue peg as partner to my pink one, two more pink pegs in the back of our little plastic car. We spin, we move, we spin again. No warrior I, just a trudger, doing what I have to do, doing what anyone would do, hoping for the best of luck.