What Does it Mean to be a Fighter?

When I tell my cancer journey story, many exclaim, “You’re such a strong woman!” When I tell them I fought leukemia twice and had a bone marrow transplant, they express admiration. “You’re a fighter!”

Hmmm. I wasn’t exactly the highly driven over-achieving cancer patient.

“Fighting cancer” has always been confusing to me.

Melancholy began on the second day of intense continuous induction chemotherapy for a recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia. Misery started on day three when the nausea started. Depression crept in on day four when everything seemed awful.

Ugly things were happening. My ribs felt twisted, and my stomach was painfully gaseous. I dreaded going to the bathroom on top of the toilet-urine-and-feces-capture-mechanism for hours at a time. I wanted the seemingly never-ending loose stools to stop. I wanted to remove the vomit receptacle and get back into bed.

There wasn’t a morsel of food that was piquant. My skin was peeling off. My nails were weird. My thin hair was rapidly shedding. My rashes were gruesome. My mouth sores were grotesque and painful.

I spent several nights awake, moaning and wishing for it all to end. “I would rather die than feel like this.”

I’m not sure I know what it means to fight. I suppose having the mental conviction to do whatever it takes to recover, and the belief that recovery is inevitable would be one way to describe it.

Do some patients have the superpower of knowing with full conviction 100% of the time that the discomfort is temporary? Do they hold back tears? Do they have more faith than me? Does God punish those of us who don’t emulate the biblical Job?

Was I supposed to shame myself for having feelings about dying? Does being strong mean I should fully believe that I will survive? How do we come to believe this? Am I a weakling if my spirits are low? Does God see me as faithless if I consider my legacy?

For me, telling me to fight would have been a form of pressure. I would have taken that to mean that I was supposed to be enthusiastic about the treatments and required activities. I was to vigorously exercise and be thankful for (the acerbic) food. I was to push my brain to conjure a miraculous healing and sing praises in advance for a full recovery. I was not to cry or complain.

I think in today’s world there is such a thing as toxic positivity.

My family, social workers, chaplains, doctors, and nurses at Moffitt Cancer Center let me be raw. If my cynicism or depression were “too much,” they knew to listen and then provide me with the right resources. They continued to heal me without judging me. They didn’t give up on me. They were the fighters. They all got me laughing at some point or another.

Now, truth be told — I was fighting, in the sense that I would (occasionally) do the right things of my own volition that were uncomfortable as I climbed a recovery rung. It was a mental marathon to self-inculcate the belief that “this too shall pass.” I walked with the physical therapist when she visited, even though I did not want to. I talked to chaplains and social workers about my fears, even though it was sometimes embarrassing or felt obligatory. I took all drugs dutifully: ingested, injected, administered through mucous membranes — what have you. I slept, painted, wrote, talked, walked, prayed and called loved ones.

I’m not sure that I fought cancer. I endured. I actually have a few fond memories from the experience, if you can believe that. And my story has a wonderful ending. I am healthy, happy and hopeful.

For some, the elusive “fight” may end with their passing away from cancer. To me, they did not “lose the fight.” They possibly won the Heart of God which was manifested differently from what the temporal typically believes. They may have returned to dust, nourishing the world. Their souls may very well still be around. Their time had come to leave this realm, yet they are still part of us, and perhaps somewhere beautiful.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

CML Alliance
Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart