The Speed of Sound? Light? No, The Speed Of Cancer.

Recently, a very close friend I’ve known for almost thirty years lost someone close to her to myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). A tragedy, surely, but the most shocking part was that the entire thing spanned a mere three months. Ninety days from a slightly sick feeling to the end – it’s so fast that no one can process it properly. It arrives unannounced and overstays without a second thought. The entire episode reminded me just how fast and swiftly that six-letter “c” word can change lives.

Cancer changes your life in a flash

Whether your physical cancer moves fast, like a race car, or slow, like a snail, the speed at which it changes your life always moves at near light speed. It’s as if you were watching a movie, and someone abruptly pulls a pop-in (stopping by without texting or calling, yes, it’s a thing) and you must immediately shift gears to host mode. In an instant, you aren’t even thinking about the half-finished movie you left upstairs and are now worrying that you don’t have enough pound cake for your nosy neighbor who stopped by to dish about the people across the street whose son was brought home by the cops the night before.

We all know that acquaintance – they show up in a flash, stay forever, eat up all your cake, drink up all your iced tea, and make you feel horrible for being a gossip. Well, that’s cancer in a nutshell – comes over suddenly, devours everything you’ve got, and makes you feel bad inside. In the time it takes to ring one doorbell, a veritable instant, your entire day has been derailed, and cancer has disrupted your life.

The emotional side of a diagnosis

The emotional side of the equation is so far from our minds when that nosy cancer neighbor suddenly shows up that processing the fears, cares, and, yes, even the morbid exhilaration, is just not going to happen. It takes most people months or even years to fully work their way through the stages of grief and loss, and make no mistake, cancer causes a loss the second you are diagnosed. You lose the life you walked into the doctor’s office with.

It’s gone, and just like Firefly (one of the best TV shows EV-AR), no matter how much begging, cajoling, and bargaining you do, it’s never coming back. Even if you send so many e-mails to Fox Studios that you are contacted by an attorney’s office with a cease and desist, your old life is gone, and that’s a loss that must be grieved just like any other.

Regrettably, just like the spaceship in that amazing show Firefly that was canceled too early by brainless idiots at Fox (I’m not bitter, I swear), cancer attaches turbo rocket boosters to your existence and sends you careening off into the universe, parts unknown. It takes every ounce of strength you have in those early days just to hang on to the missile you’ve been strapped to, the one that’s hurtling towards your fate, whatever it may be.

Getting your bearings with cancer

It doesn’t help that the general stereotype for someone with cancer is a patient in bed, slowly being eaten away by the illness over a period of months and possibly years. That perception, mainly gleaned from movies and TV shows, does not take into account the monumental kick in the ass that you get from the cancer diagnosis boot. You know, the one that feels like you got it right in the family jewels (and the female equivalent – the family jewelry box?) by a pointy West Texas steel-tipped cowboy boot?

Even if you tried to explain it to people, I don’t think they would understand – that slow, sickly, degradation stereotype is so strong. The speedy part of the cancer equation is something only those who have been through it truly get – the ambush maelstrom that sweeps you up before you even blink is so total that you can even get slightly physically disoriented. It’s equivalent to that “lost in a crowd” feeling where, just for a split-second you panic before you get your bearings.

Well, it takes much longer to get your bearings with cancer, most of us who are lucky enough to survive, spend years processing the emotions and events associated with our illnesses, and that doesn’t even take into account the secondary events that cancer causes. For me, it was a divorce.

Real-life doesn't stop

Do you know what it’s like to be going through chemo for cancer and processing a divorce at the same time? It’s like swimming with sharks while wearing a meat suit, and the sharks are hungry. And have guns. And your taxes are due, to the sharks, who are also IRS agents. Who are... well, you get it.

Even if you didn’t get divorced during cancer, everyone has real-life “stuff” that happens, healthy or not. Thankfully, kind mother fate makes sure everything besides you getting well is put on hold and everyone is nice to you and double rainbows and chocolate covered raisins greet you every morning. Yeah. Right. Like that would ever happen, because that’s how real life works, right? Nothing gets put on hold by fate, in fact, fate usually sticks one right up your, err, family jewel’s patio door, and somehow that adds speed to the already zooming ICBM that cancer has put you on. The sensation of speed would be exciting were it not hurtling you towards your possible doom.

The speed of sound. The speed of light. The speed of life. The speed of cancer. The last one trumps them all, I say. We should add it to the lexicon of speed-related phrases because I can’t think of anything faster or more apt when it comes to a factor that spins you off into the unfamiliar faster than you can think. It takes years to get a handle on the emotions and keeping busy and out of depression during that time is important. Thankfully I can fill that time with writing e-mails to Fox about their ridiculous canceling of amazing TV shows. Talk soon.

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