Not A Cancer Warrior Every Minute? Congrats, You're Human

Cancer Warrior Chic. It’s the way we are all supposed to be when facing cancer. Keeping up that oh-so-elusive positive mental outlook when “The Big C” hits. We are told how important it is to fight and be upbeat when it comes to our prognosis, but somehow when you are doubled over, nauseous, and exhausted because you tried to go out to meet a friend and ended up failing miserably, it’s a little tricky to keep sunshine and flowers flying out of your you know what.

A glimpse into feeling better

Anyone who has gone through chemo has been there – you wake up feeling better than you have in a week or two, and you think, “Yes! I can finally get some of that stuff done!” Whether it be the bills, cleaning up, or visiting with the friend who keeps insisting on seeing you, and you finally give in because it’s getting to the point where you have to use a thesaurus to find new ways to say no. You are ecstatic over the fact that you can enjoy just a little bit of normal for the first time in a long while. So you get up, you get showered for the first time in longer than you care to admit, you shave those parts of you that haven’t seen the sun since you left the hospital, and you go to the closet to get something decent to wear. Of course, none of the clothes you wore before cancer are going to fit right, so you spend an hour trying to put on anything that doesn’t make you look like a sausage with a string tied around it or an anorexic ghost (which one depends on whether you gained or lost weight).

After that, you shore yourself up with all the meds you can think of, and then realize you probably should try to eat something... anything... before you start. So, you head down to the kitchen and spend fifteen minutes realizing you don’t have anything at all in the house and have to call Uber Eats. That makes it another forty-five minutes of waiting for food to come only to find out it’s cold and they forgot that you ordered it with no onions. Bah – ZERO STARS for you “Chad.” You finally finish eating, and then it hits you. You spent the last two and a half hours getting ready to do a day full of stuff and without realizing it you’ve used up every last bit of energy you had. You reluctantly admit defeat and head back to bed or your recliner to watch Netflix, dejected, because you were all ready to do something, anything, and you failed. Ugh. “I’m not a warrior,” you say, “I’m a soft, crying, baby,” and then come the tears.

It's okay not to be a cancer warrior

Anyone going through chemo or other cancer treatments has had a scenario like the above play out, and when you reach that point where you realize it’s just not going to happen, you feel awful. You feel like you have had a day of failing – failing your friend who is coming over, failing your Swiffer, and failing those wonderful people at the medical billing office who kindly mailed those bills you were going to pay (ha ha, yeah right). You say, “God! This sucks!” When you have cancer you hate failing at the things you used to take for granted. It just reminds you how far you’ve fallen, and everything you see online makes it seem like all the other cancer patients are like super Amazon warriors! “What’s wrong with me?” You ask. Well, nothing. Why? Because it’s OK to not be a warrior every, single, minute of your cancer experience. In fact, it’s normal – being a “warrior” 100% of the time is the “fake news” of the cancer world.

Doubt and fear will come

Look, I’m here to tell you that you are going to experience doubt. Profound doubt. (I know, I’m so good at pep talks. TED talk soon.) I know, everywhere you look it seems like patients are trying to one-up each other with “cancer warrior chic” posts. It feels like people with all kinds of cancer are climbing mountains, cleaning up the ocean’s plastic, and facing each day with the true grit of a pioneer woman in a bear attack, and OMG looking great doing it!

The thing is, that’s not real life, cancer or no cancer. You’re going to falter, it’s inevitable, everyone does. You’re going to have late-night crying jags, you’re going to get so angry that you lash out at the people who are helping you because they just won’t stop asking you, “what can I do?” and, yes, you will become extremely well acquainted with doubt and fear. Why? Because that’s what happens to real people down here on Earth, and guess what, that’s fine.

Don't beat yourself up

Here’s the important part, though – and I say this as someone who knows pretty well – fear and doubt and not being a warrior 24/7 makes you more like a normal, healthy, human being than most other things you can do in this crazy life! If you get up, have a positive attitude, “cancer warrior chic” ready to go, and then it ends up getting you nothing that day but puking up your cold Panera an hour after you choked it down, I’m here to tell you that it’s OK and don’t ever beat yourself up for not being a warrior, at that moment. I’ll let you in on a little secret – no one thinks of themselves as a “warrior” when their face is stuffed in a toilet bowl, no matter what Facebook may say.

Look, if the whole “never surrender, never accept failure,” thing works for you, then great, I always say, “if it works then do it,” and this is no exception. For anyone else, though, it’s important you know you are going to experience doubt and fear like you’ve never had, and it’s totally normal. It makes you a human, a human with cancer. Talk soon.

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