Naming my Tumors Helped Me Process My Grief

I’ve had stage four cancer for 5 ½ years, and it never dawned on me to name my tumors or cancer. Personalizing cancer didn’t seem helpful at any point. I created a cancer support name called Team Sunshine because it helped me feel supported and loved. I felt more like myself during my first and second years of cancer. After that, my cancer stabilized, so I didn’t need as many coping strategies like naming my cancer tumors. However, I knew folks who had done so, for example, calling their breast tumor “Norman.”

Fast forward to last month, when I found out I have a total of six active tumors between my brain, liver and right eye. Two in each organ, which we found by me advocating my symptoms and asking for scans, for the doctor to investigate and so on. Still reeling from the total shock of the progression to my organs, I hadn’t found a way to deal with the news fully. I felt I was just “surviving” and getting from Point A to Point B again, which was the same as when I first was diagnosed with breast cancer. This didn’t seem as healthy to me, and I didn’t want to crumble to depression around the holidays. My therapist has been amazing in trying to help with all that I have going on with all of my doctor appointments, scans and chaos. I kept trying to write and find the words, but I still at times felt stuck, and couldn’t fully process my feelings.

A few family friends urged me to keep things “simple” for the holidays like decorating and giving myself grace. However, the only thing I kept thinking was that I just wanted to curse my tumors, swear at them and just call them a bunch of names. With this idea, I found a little joy, and the more I focused on the idea of “kicking them to the curb” and yelling at them; it would give them an identity. Thus, it began the hunt to name them with evil personalities after evil characters. I asked friends and family for the best evil characters they could think of, and I’d collect them, and draw names out of hat.

This brought a lot of joy because the name submissions were positively so exquisite. The creativity and responses really showed where people pulled their submissions from. Hades, Jafar, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Sarun (evil eye from Lord of the Rings), Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Ursula, Gaston and so on.

The final names are: Brain- Voldemort and Putin; Ocular Right Eye – Cruella and Hannibal Lecter; Liver- Scar and Ivan the Terrible

Brain radiation started on Dec. 14, finished the week of Dec. 18 and chemotherapy will resume on Dec. 22. How cool will it be to say, “I’m off to zap Voldemort and Putin today!” and then when chemo resumes, I can say “Were kicking Scar and Ivan the Terrible to the curb. Watch out!”

Then when I have my scans, hopefully we can say “They all died!!!! Or at least a few of them!”

I didn’t think creating personalities for these tumors would help me, but having such severe side effects from the tumors, and knowing the pain they’ve caused, and what they’ve taken from me, it does help. It has made a difference. My battle cry is so much stronger — my fight to push harder and stay on the path is so focused. My attitude is pure might, and I’m so much less scared. I’ve put my fears into fighting all of them, and finally the weight of this diagnosis feels a little lighter. For reasons I still don’t understand, giving characters and personalities to these tumors really helped with some of the stress and anxiety of the progression into my organs. It is something I have feared of happening with my stage four breast cancer, knowing that once its in my organs, it’s a more severe prognosis. Tissues can only be radiated so much, and tissue is more sacred.

To Putin, Voldemort, Cruella, Hannibal Lecter, Scar and Ivan the Terrible: with every fiber in my soul and being, with the help of my fantastic medical team at Northwestern and Mayo Clinic, with the support and love of Team Sunshine, all six of you will be kicked to the curb, annihilated and cursed. You are hated, unwanted and wished by many to never return!

To all of you reading, I hope this article brings you joy and a few laughs.

With love, grit, grace and gratitude from Team Sunshine

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