Find Your Cancer Avatar & Fight the Encroaching Darkness

Last updated: July 2020

When you face cancer, it requires you to not only steal yourself physically but also mentally. It’s not an easy task – but throughout the whole process I was able to draw upon something that helped me keep those spirits up, and it’s something I think everyone can get behind. I picked an avatar to replace myself with, in my head and in real life, metaphorically, and whenever anything tough came along it was the avatar, not me, who faced it.

Some of you may be asking, “what’s an avatar?” Well, it also goes by other names – a Patronus, for you Harry Potter fans, a “spirit animal,” a stand-in, an enhanced self-image, a character representation – the list goes on and on but whatever you know it as, it’s just the thing/person/animal you picture yourself as when you visualize your fight against cancer.

Conquering the mind demons

Now, I’ve had practice with this from thirty-some-odd years of autoimmune illness, so when lymphoma hit, my avatar was ready, but I would have created one if it wasn’t. Why? Because visualizing yourself as something strong or clever or compassionate helps to keep your fighting spirit up. It’s true.

Think about it (no pun intended) – in which of these two examples would it be more difficult to keep your spirits up? An out-of-shape person who willfully ignores their own health, wearing a beer-can-hat and sandals with socks, flipping off small children and nuns, stands at the gates fending off the dark blob that is cancer. Next, instead, think of a shining golden lion with a beautiful mane, rays of light emanating from all around him, voicing a thunderous roar that shakes the very pillars of heaven, standing at those same gates facing the encroaching darkness that is cancer. Now, which ones of those images are more likely to help you get into that, “ok let’s do this!!!” mindset? I think you know the answer, even if some of you do wear sandals with socks. It’s just easier to face the constant barrage, the mind demons as I call them, when you have a bright shining light of an image to go up against it.

Creating your avatar

How do you go about creating an avatar for yourself? Well, more thought goes into it than you think, but there’s also some instinct as well. First off, and you don’t have to say it out loud, but I think all of us have a person, place, or thing, real or fictional, that we picture ourselves as in our private thought moments. If not, try this exercise: close your eyes and imagine you are one of the last people on Earth. There is an oncoming horde of zombies or bandits or clowns (hey, people have weird phobias), and you have to protect everyone in the settlement. Quick! Without thinking about it, if you could be anyone in that moment, who would it be?

Whoever you just pictured, be it your grandfather during Pearl Harbor or the archangel Gabriel himself, that’s a great place to start creating your avatar. That’s the instinct part. Now, though, you have to take that good start and make it your own, even if it’s just as simple as giving that person a name that connects them to you. You have to make it personal. I know, right now some of you are probably saying, “this is so silly,” and it is little silly, sure, but in those dark moments when cancer creeps up and you start to lose hope, I guarantee “goofy” won’t be what comes to mind.

My avatar, Steve Rogers

Chemo, surgeries, and even staying still for those awful PET scans – these are all things I faced, mentally, using my own avatar. Now, I know the question that’s on all of your minds is “What’s your avatar?” Before I answer, let me just say that for anyone reading this, I’d suggest that you keep your avatar to yourself – not because of any fear of embarrassment, but simply because it’s important to have that avatar be a thing that’s yours and no one else’s.

As strange as it sounds, having a nurse or doctor make an offhand comment like “ok buddy! Just think of that lion of yours facing this test!” it somehow cheapens the whole thing, and I can’t even explain why. It takes the “soul” out of your avatar, if you will. So that’s why I’d advise keeping it to yourself, but for the sake of example, I’m going to share mine with all of you, here, today. My avatar is Steve Rogers. Captain America.

Facing lymphoma like Cap

Why Cap? Because he always does the right thing and faces what needs to be done, whether it’s going to be painful or not, no matter the odds, without complaint. He unequivocally and without hesitation walks towards the danger, knowing it might kill him, and along the way somehow still manages to be encouraging and supportive to everyone else around him. Plus, he has that shield to protect him from whatever comes, and that is what I saw myself as when cancer came calling. I tried to face lymphoma with as much strength as Cap, and I did my best along the way to calm the fears of my mom, my family, and my friends, and it worked. Any time I began to falter, I thought of Steve Rogers, and how he’d have faced it. How did I make it my own? I gave him a pair of red Converse hi-tops.

Goofy. Silly. Weak. Imaginary. That’s what people may say when reading this, but I promise you will find that the mental battle of cancer becomes easier to fight when you turn it into an epic encounter, a heroic tale, of good versus evil, with your avatar at the head. Steve Rogers, Captain America or Roger Stevens, the guy who runs the local soup kitchen, find your avatar, and write your saga. Talk soon.

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