The I Had Cancer Web site has a feature called Dear Cancer. The headline for that section is, Recent Messages To Cancer. The messages there strike me as bizarre and sad.
The word “bastard” is used a lot to refer to the disease. Why is cancer a man? Don’t answer that…
I don’t really understand the impulse to externalize and anthropomorphize something that’s inside yourself, trying to kill you. Trying to kill me. I understand feeling helpless. Oh yes, I do. For some people, shouting at an effigy of cancer must help with that. It just doesn’t help me. It would make me feel stupid, like Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair.
Christopher Hitchens’ posthumously published essay collection, Mortality, contains this quote:
It’s no fun to appreciate the full truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
Hitchens recently died of throat cancer and all those quotes on Brain Pickings are good and well worth reading, even if you don’t buy the book.
I guess the reason that I can’t talk to cancer as if it were a bad bad man is because I am a materialist, and have been since my teens. I’ve always struggled to look at the world as it is. Unlike most materialists, I think, I spent the bulk of my life fighting, acting and raging — mostly raging ineffectually — against what I saw and perceived. I’m still that way.
Which is one reason why this disease feels so implacable. Cancer is not another person. It’s me. It’s a clump of my own mutated cells — mute, dumb, but inexorably expanding inside me.
So maybe instead of talking to cancer, I need to have good long talk with myself. And maybe you do, too.