May. 10th, 2016

ritaxis: (hat)
I'm working on an extended metaphor for how I am experiencing cancer treatment. I do not feel like a warrior, not at all. I don't even feel like I'm fighting the cancer. If any fighting is going on, it's being done by the medical team. I'm doing something else.

It's not that I don't feel I'm contributing to the project at all. Although I should emphasize that my part in this collective effort is rather small. But there are so many people working on this, and so many jobs tro do, that I don't feel like there's something wrong with me having a small part to play. I do that part with all my best intentions and my best efforts, and I am grateful for all the other people who have all their jobs to do.

So the metaphor I'm working on is that it's like the stewardship of a nature reserve which is being threatened by an invasive species. I'm not in charge of the eradication efforts. That's the medical team's part. They've introduced chemical controls, but mainly they're trying to tweak the balance of the predators. They've brought in chemicals which are nearly as alive in my body as viruses or at least prions--please notice this is a metaphor and I don't believe the Adriamycin etc are organisms--but these are rather indiscriminate in their prey behavior and they go after the native species in my nature reserve as well as the invasive ones, and therefore the tweaking. They have a good idea nowadays of how these things affect the natural balance in my environment, so they have all these supportive measures to offer me, and here is where my part comes in.

I get to attempt to maintain the ecological equilibrium of this habitat. A big factor in how well this regine will work is in how well my body will tolerate it. So when my oncologist says "take this, this, and this for nausea, and this for analgesia," I do it. My usual response to discomfort is to attempt toughing it out first and then treating if necessary, but in this case, it's a more workmanlike response to jump in there and do the preventive measures and to treat small discomforts before they become big. Because small discomforts will get bigger as treatment progresses, so there's no point in waiting to see if it will be okay. Yes, I can live with low-level nausea, but if untreated low-level nausea can progress to the point where food and medicine won't stay in my body, then I'm treating the low-level stuff to prevent that (hopefully. It's also a known thing that some people's bodies don't tolerate the treatment no matter what the people do).

So, also, therefore, I attempt to have generally good nutrition, I get exercise, and I'm trying to sleep properly. Not because I am a Warrior who will Eat Myself Well, or Exercise Myself Well, or Sleep Myself Well. Because I understand that I can support the overall effort by taking good basic care of the habitat.  I'm working on having a good mood and all that not because I believe that's a magic bullet against cancer but because honestly what's the poiht in defending your life if you're not going to get something out of that life?

I have an impulse to be understanding of people who fall for quackery when they get cancer or some other life-threatening condition. How they want to believe that some fellow can give them apricot kernel extract and make it all go away. Or that if they boost their immune system with echinacea or turmeric, they will live. But I can't really see the moment when you decide "this person who has spent years studying the actual human body, specifically the behavior of real cancers in the actual human body: them and their whole team of researchers, practitioners, technicians, nurses, they can't possibly know as much about cancer as this fellow on the internet who read the Bible and a book about alchemical humors and set up shop with a pile of untested junk that's got no quality control either."

I kinow there's a certain contrarian set of mind where a person becomes sure that whatever is standard procedure must inherently be incorrect. I think part of the reasoning for that is that once in a while a scientific advance comes from someone questioning the underpinnings of former received wisdom. But when that is true, it's not true because someone gazed into their navel and decideed that everything was bunk. It's true when a person finds the right question to ask and asks it scientiifcally, carefully keeping records and actually being quite routine and boring.

I think also for some people they want to see their life in the hands of a superhero who can single-handedly dash the enemy to the ground and fly the patient to safety with the glorious cape fluttering around them. So they fall for charismatic quacks. Myself, I would rather be a routine patient in the hands of less colorful, competent people with flexible, multipathed protocols to hand and a variety of tools to fit different situations. I loved that my oncologist drew me a flow chart the first time I saw her. And I was entertained when she said "Now, I'm not so important in the process yet, but after the surgery, you'll be seeing more of me..." I liked the sense that there were plans in place already no matter what came up, and I also like the sense that my doctors and nurses were working as a team rather than grandstanding.

Anyway. That's me talking cancer philosophy. I'm not a Cancer Warrior Woman, I'm a Cancer Park Ranger--no, really, a Cancer Groundskeeper. I'm not fighting. I'm gardening.

May 2017

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