Archives for category: Our Bodies

Absolutely nothing! (With apologies to the Animals, I think).

Over the weekend I revisited Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor. I meant also to look at AIDS and Its Metaphors, but didn’t get that far. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything with more substance than a Facebook page. Then I read through the first few chapters of Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors we Live By. Didn’t quite get far enough on that one, although the categorization of metaphors is really quite interesting.

I’ve written about this before. I have a problem with the whole War on Cancer/Race for the Cure/Cancer Survivor thing. Military frames play a big part in medicine – we fight disease, we win or lose wars against this, that and the other thing, and we survive. So the assumption is that you can win or lose against cancer (and other diseases). Winning is a cure, and losing is death or maybe recurrence. But also, as Sontag points out, cancer is evil, wicked. The enemy. Those of us with cancer have this evil in our bodies. It must be exorcised, excised, poisoned, removed, stopped. And treatments do this – chemotherapy aims to cease cell division and thus growth. Radiation targets, blasts, shoots.

The problem is in our bodies. Does that mean there is something intrinsically bad about us that has caused this evil to invade our bodies. Invasion, takeover, etc, etc. I don’t like the idea of assessing blame on something which is still a random, probabalistic event.

I want to help my body heal. I don’t want to kill parts of my body, and I don’t want this conflict within. I continue to search for the words that I am comfortable with, but I still can’t find them – war and battle images are too strong. Perhaps for me the answer is to just not think of it. I go to chemo, I have my treatment, and at the end I’ve reduced my risk. Do I need more imagery than simply believing that the treatments will work? Do I have to visualize them? I don’t know the answer.

As it happens, war and disease seem to mirror each other In the 21st century – even in the late 20th, we began to experience conflicts without a clear-cut enemy. Think Vietnam as one of the first. Maybe even earlier wars had this – I am not a student of military history.

After the cold war, we lost our bad guys – no more communists. Who are the guys in the black hats? It’s no longer clear. Just as cancer becomes a chronic disease that is treated multiple times, war becomes a series of engagements, interactions. Blasting the enemy off the face of the earth becomes less effective, so often because the good guys are blasted away too. And this is a metaphor of chemotherapy. Especially with the older anthracyclines and the other stuff like cytoxan (alkalyzing agents? ), “good cells” such as white and red blood cells, mucosal linings in the digestive system and mouth, and hair are killed off during cell division. Chemotherapy as yet does not differentiate between cancer and non cancer cells – it seeks out, finds and stops cell division no matter the sort of cell. It is rather like shooting fish in a barrel. But it’s what we have and thankful for it.

I still don’t like the idea of war in my body. Still, fighting disease is so ingrained into my own language that I am fighting a disease sometimes, and describing myself as “strong” is a good thing. Now, however I view strength as listening to my body, and taking care of it – getting enough rest, eating well, and making sure I call my doctor when I don’t feel well. Not letting myself suffer needlessly. I am giving my body all the resources and strength it needs to fight disease.

Well, this is definitely a work in progress… or a think in progress anyway…. More soon.

Haven’t really been writing much.  Too busy playing angry birds on iPad and crocheting hats.  Also have been waiting for my laptop stand to arrive so I can sit in bed or on my fainting couch and type. Am really trying not to type lying on my stomach since that seems to be really bad for my neck.

Mood has been up and down a bit. I’ve learned though that it’s really important to frame. So I work pretty hard on framing this as positive – I have good reason to think of my treatment in a positive light, because

  • Reasonably small tumor
  • Clear margins
  • Clear Lymph Nodes
  • No evidence of  mets
  • Really nice lumpectomy that looks like hardly anything has been done

The one negative factor is that the tumor grew quickly and aggressively. So I’m having chemo for that, something that might not have been suggested a few years ago.

Still it’s a little scary, and there are days when I worry. The most vivid frame of breast cancer that I have in my head is my mother’s experience, more than 20 years ago. But, there are a lot of differences, and history does not have to repeat itself. Well, it’s already not repeating itself since our surgical outcomes and prescribed treatments are so different.

Also, I’m trying to keep in mind that more and more women die with rather than die of breast cancer – it’s more of a chronic disease. And although we’re not worrying yet about recurrences – it’s important to realize that women live through recurrences. Not always the epic fail.

I don’t like the idea of fighting breast cancer – I mean, I want the cancer cells to go away, but I don’t like all the war metaphors. I don’t like fighting with my body. It is true that chemotherapy kills cancer cells. It also kills other fast growing cells like hair, and blood components, mucosal linings and so on. Cleaning is an interesting metaphor, but since I’m such a slob, that’s definitely not me. My brother in law suggested an image of love and eating the cells, which is sort of cool.   Have to think more about that….

We  have so many opportunities to hate our own bodies, women especially  – appearance, weight, and now cancer.  I don’t want to hate my body so I don’t want it to be at war, and I don’t want to think about failure within.

The other thing that’s been really interesting is learning to be in the present. Not to dwell on the past and not to worry too much abut the future. That helps a lot. To just enjoy each day as it happens. Mindfulness.  Breathing.

Right now I’m sitting in a sunny room, looking out the window. I can’t see the Alps since it’s a little foggy, but it’s beautiful anyway. Lily is sleeping on the bed and I’m sitting here typing. It’s not a bad existence. Tomorrow I have chemo and there will be a few days of fuzzy head, swelling, and general blah as I taper down the prednisone. But then I’ll be 3/4 done with the first set of chemo.  And spring is coming, so the days will lengthen. And soon this will all be done!


I feel pretty good. But I’m going to sleep – been a long day. And I just have to add this small piece of silliness

Just want to post this so we can all thank Oprah for our large cupped bras and tights and stockings that don’t fall down in the crotch and make us cranky….Proliferating like a virus or something?????

I’m as grateful to Oprah as anyone I suppose… actually, I don’t watch much Oprah, and I once tried her favorite bra and it gave me indigestion. Who on earth ever thought of lingerie as proliferating like a virus?  Simply more available would be good enough. I posted this on FB too, so sorry if it’s redundant…..

But Jeez….if the lingerie was in size 0, it would never proliferate, methinks.

Think on that, my friends…….