Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Another Round, Anyone? (Or, How Many Times Can I Say "Perhaps"?)
So the comments on the last post made me realize I am not the annoyed "survivor" I sometimes feel. Thank you for making me feel normal (although that's another word I am growing to dislike nearly as much as survivor). Thanks Carolyn, Kranki, Zee, Seaneen (John?), Brainhell, and Greg for your comments. I struggle at times with the notion that I need to make everyone else around me feel comfortable with cancer and how I am feeling, even at this point in the game. It is nice to know that others have the same perspective on the topic. I would like to say to Jill, the author who interviewed me, if you are still reading, I mean no disrespect. I know that you had your own life threatening experience with a chronic illness and I respect your experience as well as the chance to reflect on my own experience from a somewhat different perspective. Unfortunately, once I start thinking, everyone is in trouble. It seems I have much more to say.

I have read many times in various essays and on blogs about this concept of gifts and how "cancer has changed me for the better." There was a time when I may have understood (yet not embraced) this concept. It was right around the time I was so broken emotionally and physically by chemotherapy. I felt that with each treatment, the life was literally being drained from me, body and soul. By the time I was done, I was a shell of myself, hollow, withdrawn, and even doubtful. It may not have been so apparent to those who saw me or even those closest to me, but I felt like I was traveling in an almost eerie zombie-like state, feeling nothing but the ache of my physical form.

Once my blood counts began to recover and I was further and further from treatment, I started to feel life entering my body once again. I could almost feel the transformation evolve as if I were watching the magical colorization of a black and white photo. The sepia tones leaving the frame as the vibrant colors began emerging. Of course this physical response to the absence of chemo impacted my emotional state as well. The better I felt physically, a feeling almost of euphoria was filling my psyche. And perhaps the psychological impact of being told that the chemo had been successful prodded the body to respond in kind as well. In retrospect, clearly a mind body connection was in some transactional state that to some degree spurred on recovery.

Perhaps it is at this time that the proclamation of a gift or a changed person is announced. Perhaps the pendulum swinging from the broken physical state to a state of recovery kicks up the momentum of the emotional pendulum, which combined with the rush of hormones formerly repressed by the chemo drugs, causes an emotional response to a physical resurgence. Or are we so broken that the tiniest ray of light feels like a beacon?

Or perhaps the gift does exist, but the nagging voice in the back of the mind that randomly whispers tales of the beast waiting to pounce unannounced cynically beats down the joy of the gift. I'm no psychologist, nor do I play one on TV; however, I think it is not only overly simplistic, but could even be disrespectful to put illness on the level of a gift.

As human beings we continue to evolve with each experience. The virtuous person, as Aristotle would say, grows with each learning experience and faces each life experience as a learning experience. In fact, he might say we have a moral obligation to learn from our life experiences. So if I had been physically beaten by an assailant, recovered, and then discovered something about life, would you dare tell me that being beaten was a gift? What about the woman on welfare who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, including her child? She was evacuated to Houston where she found a job and began a new life. Would you dare suggest that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that happened to her? Or a gift? Or how about the couple I met at Relay for Life who met in a grief support group after they each lost their spouse to cancer. Their love is a gift, but losing their spouses? Not so much.

My point is that it is not the tragic occurrence that is the gift. Rather it is the power of the human spirit to make the best of the worst situation, the power of the mind to extract the best from a painful lesson, or simply it is a state of grace. Frankly, I will never believe that an experience that rendered me infertile, caused the loss of both my breasts, and has taken a piece of every joyful moment I have experienced since to be a gift. I will always remember fondly the gifts given me in the moments spent with friends, in the laughter that somehow graced each post-chemo recovery weekend with my sister, in the joy of creation I witnessed in each sunrise I woke to greet, in the lessons I learned about appreciating the moment and stopping to live in the moment. Lessons perhaps, gifts no. Simply, the gifts are in the living, not the living with illness.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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    "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12