The happy cancer dance

Unless you are one of those people who doesn’t know how the internet works, you’ve likely seen this viral video circulating around social networking sites, where a woman who is about to undergo a mastectomy dances with her medical team prior to having her surgery.

I have no issues with this woman and her dance party. I liked watching the video and it made me smile. I love a good dance party and I totally danced at odd times throughout my cancer treatment. When the urge strikes, I say go for it. Her display of joy does not bother me in the least.

What bothers me, however, is people’s reactions to this video. The video went viral because people LOVE seeing patients who have fun with their cancer. Patients who subvert expectations of being a cancer patient and who defy convention. These types of stories are the ones that spread like wildfire because we find them to be inspirational and uplifting. Thousands of people shared and commented on the video: She is so awesome! Wow, she is brave! What amazing courage this woman has! I wish I could be like her!

Okay, fair enough.

But I’ll tell you a secret: EVERYONE who gets their boobs lopped off possesses courage. We just all choose to do it in different ways. Sure, no one wants to see the video of the young mom being wheeled in her hospital bed, into the operating room, with tears running down her face, hopped-up on anxiety meds. Fine. You don’t have to see it. But all these women are no less courageous and no less awesome and no less worthy of being celebrated.

Our society loves showing the lighter side of cancer, and the people who laugh in its face. We need to perpetuate this “happy cancer” myth so that we feel we have some sort of control. If I get cancer, I will dance too, and I will be okayCancer’s not that bad.

But the truth is, most people aren’t dancing. Most people are scared as hell, and isolated and anxious, which is how I feel most days. I can tell you, as someone who loves to dance and loves giving the big EFF YOU to cancer, I most definitely was not dancing the day of my mastectomy. I cried. And I cried for many days after.

I still cry.

I am no less brave.

And neither are you.

Radiation Update

Dear Diary,

Today I had my first radiation treatment.

I actually wasn’t anxious at all going into it. I think that my family and friends were more nervous about it than I was. Again I am quite astounded at how much I have changed since finding that lump back in September. I am slightly hardened, in a way. Acclimated to all of these treatments, and to the hospital walls. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, because I never want to get used to this as my life. But it does help me face each new challenge. Mentally, I do feel a lot stronger than I did before any of this started. Braver, I guess. None of it by choice, but nonetheless, a new me has certainly emerged out of all this mess.

As I waited for my treatment to begin, I chatted with an elderly man who has a tumor somewhere near his rib. He had had radiation previously, so he shared his experience with me. His doctors are considering chemotherapy as part of his treatment, so he asked how I fared with that. And there we sat, swapping war stories. Me and this 80-something year old man. Another cancer friend. You should know you’re still a very pretty girl, he said. I liked him. I hope he doesn’t have to do chemo.

I had two very nice radiation therapists bring me into my treatment room and set me up, making sure I was nicely lined up with the machine, thanks to my four little chest tattoos. Then they inserted my breathing tube. It was a bit more difficult than the simulation, due to the congestion I still have from my cold. But prior to beginning, one of the therapists remarked that it was quite impressive how long I had held my breath in the sim, so I knew I had to live up to my reputation and not screw it up. And I didn’t. I sailed right through it, and then it was over.

My new best friends for the next couple months. Cream, lotion, ointment, and aloe. Radiation 101.

Honestly, I was smiling through most of my treatment. I don’t even know why. There are lots of bad and scary things that can happen from radiation. Not usually immediate, but further down the line. But I guess I just felt happy to not be in chemo. To not be in pain. And to be kicking the shit out of my cancer, which has clearly become one of my favourite pastimes.

I met up with my sister after. Since she’s a medical student, she is often near the hospitals, which is convenient for me. I got some lunch, then we walked to the health food store, where I got a few items I needed, and some I definitely didn’t but couldn’t resist (chocolate quinoa crunchies, my new fave). And then I went home.

Radiation day complete. One down. Twenty-four more to go.

The main side effect from radiation is supposed to be fatigue. I can see how it would get quite tiring, even without the effects of the actual treatment. Just going to the hospital every day, back and forth, takes a lot out of you. I already don’t really feel like going tomorrow, and I’m just beginning. But I will push through it, and hope it doesn’t get too rough. I don’t want to anticipate anything bad happening. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.

For now, I am smiling.

Post-radiation. Feeling my new hair that's slowly growing in. So soft, like a newborn baby. A newborn me.
Post-radiation. Feeling my new hair that’s slowly growing in. So soft, like a newborn baby. A newborn me.