Fight or Flight

For years now I’ve had a little saying: THE UNIVERSE IS IMPLODING AS IT SHOULD.  It’s my smarty-pants answer to the litany of New Agey maxims out there (and ok, maybe it’s not imploding, but the universe isn’t generally renowned for fairness either.) When I first got cancer, I used to say it all the time.   And just in case it isn’t evidence enough of the instability of the universe that cancer hits ordinary people and little children (rather than solely targeting warlords and child molesters) sometimes ordinary and even truly good people get cancer more than once This is what happened to woman I know, someone who really helped me when I first found out I had breast cancer.  She was in “remission” from breast cancer when we met, and became my unexpected ally and mentor: smart, resourceful, frank and full to overflowing with information. Then one day a few months ago she told me she’d been diagnosed with a second, totally unrelated cancer, with an inoperable tumor and a very bad prognosis. I found the news shocking, infuriating and devastating. I tried to imagine what she must feel; how I would feel.  I realized that if I were told one year from now that I had to go back to mainlining chemo poisons all over again, for a whole different kind of cancer that may have been there all along and is not looking all that beatable… It would probably knock the fight right out of me. Frankly, I would probably want to skip the hell of treatment, move to a beach somewhere, raise our daughter there for as long as I had left, and not be bald and nauseated and sick all over again.  (This is known as “giving up” and the beach version plays out particularly well in films, especially when the credits roll before the cancer does anything really visibly nasty to the person.) But there is a bigger part of me that feels I’d owe it to myself and the people I love to stay where I could access some of the best medicine in the world and fight my cancer with all the arsenal available to me.  Not to mention the fact that my husband would never buy into any crazy talk about skipping town and moving to the tropics, at least not until I had thoroughly beaten the cancer. So, yesterday I got an e-mail from my friend – this woman who had shepherded me through my first weeks with cancer, she of the “inoperable” tumor.  She comes from a long line of fighters – we’re talking holocaust survivors and trailblazers – and she just set her jaw against this thing and went through all the chemo they could throw at her.  It turns out it worked: The chemo shrank the tumor to the point that it was operable.  She spent six and a half hours on the operating table, and they think they got it all.  I’m still giddy from the news.  The universe can go on imploding and being unfair, nothing to be done about that old chestnut.  But when it comes down to fight or flight, as nice as the beach sounds, I think the smart money is on fighting.

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