Cancer Is More Than Just An Illness - It's An Event

I was speaking with someone the other day and I said something; something that I didn’t even realize was as profound as it was until well after. We’ve all done it - mention something in the heat of an intense conversation that we realize, much later on, was extremely clever or astute. Unfortunately, by that point, it’s basically just you, staring in your bathroom mirror or standing in the shower, telling no one in particular, “yeah, right? That is totally true!” Well, it happened to me recently when I said, “cancer isn’t an illness, it’s an event.”

Right? RIGHT?? Now that I said it to you, I bet you went, “OMG that’s totally true!” Cancer is more than just an illness, more than just a disease – it’s a life-changing, Earth-shattering, vomit-inducing event. It’s something more akin to the launch of the space shuttle or the first real job you got – something that will forever mark a change in the direction of your life.

The big "C" announcement

Some of you might be thinking, “but Dan, that can be said about any illness or disease.” Really, though, can it? Think about it. First, when you are ready, you basically announce to the world you have cancer, be it on social media, on the phone, or in person. In fact, you do everything short of sending out an e-vite so people can RSVP “maybe” for a “big announcement.” (Why people don’t realize everyone knows “maybe” means “I might have something better to do” I’ll never know.)

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You don’t do that with a sore throat or a common cold. “Hear ye! Hear ye! I have been stricken with yon colde of the commoner!!” No, of course you don’t, not only because it’s dumb but also because absolutely no one would care except for that one person on your social media who “likes” everything you post even if it says, “I’ve recently died.”

When the news gets around

After the big news gets around, what happens? People immediately start doing things – sending food, calling, texting, stopping by, bringing you things – whatever it is, it’s not something that happens when you have mono, I can tell you that. When you get mono the only thing people send you is chicken soup and their silent judgment. (The kissing disease, hrmph! Might as well just be a gigolo!) Cancer, on the other hand, makes people spring into action and even if that action is to pull away and turn a previously close friendship into an acquaintance, it’s still a major shift. These things are more akin to the responses to an event, not an illness.

Along the way, once you really get into the thick of things, there’s likely chemo. Even that is treated like a series of mini-events. You plan everything – the chemo day itself, what to bring to the infusion, what you’re going to do once you get home. Then you have your plan for a few days after – the mouthwashes you’ll need, the food you want to have (or try to have), the shows and movies you are going to watch. Getting chemo is totally an event, something you make an entire plan for and around, and something that ends. After a week or so, you are back to your “normal” cancer-fighting state, and you wait for the next cycle in a few weeks, the next big “event.”

After you’ve been treated for a while, there’s another significant set of events – scans! Right? There isn’t much on the whole slate of cancer treatment that carries more weight than the first PET scan. It’s like you are getting your SAT results back or waiting to see if you got into college – it’s something that will be indelibly marked upon the timeline of your life, good or bad, and might well determine the direction of your entire future. Just like a big promotion or getting arrested, that 30 minutes of scanning that you have circled in red on the calendar in your mind may well be joy-inducing or heart-breaking (I’ll let you decide which is which). I mean, if that doesn’t qualify as an “event,” then I have no idea what would. Getting married? I mean, not for me obviously, but it’s that level of importance.

The cancer spectators

Finally, there’s one more way that cancer is more an event than an illness – you have spectators. I know, this sounds like I’ve mixed up cancer with a Pearl Jam concert but hear me out. When people find out you have cancer you immediately become the topic of conversation in your social circle and from then on, all people will want to know is how it’s “going.” How’s chemo, how’s the testing, how’re your feeling. Watching, watching, watching, like some perverse reality show where the prize if you win is that you get to live. It’s like the looky-loos just can’t get enough! Now, I get it, human nature being what it is, but just like any event, good or bad, cancer brings in onlookers, it’s as simple as that. People who you never were that friendly with suddenly want to know every detail. Sounds like an event to me.

So, you see, when I said this stupid thing the other day, I didn’t realize how truly accurate it was. Now, though, after parsing it and dissecting the meaning, it really does ring true. Cancer is a disease, yes, but it is much more an event – one that could mean the end of everything or the beginning of something new. Now if I could just find a way to charge admission... Talk soon.

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