Cancer in Life and Writing

I know that this blog is about writing, but I want to talk about something that I want to write about, but sometimes am intimidated by: cancer.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer two years ago. Luckily, thyroid cancer is one of the less dangerous cancers, and I’m fine now. But the thing about cancer, is that it never really leaves you. You might be fine health wise, but you’re never really “fine” in any other sense.

I always heard the phrase that people use about how things “spread like cancer” and I thought that there was something beautiful about it. To an English person, it’s a metaphor meant to show the relentless that something has and how it poisons as it spreads. As a cancer survivor, I don’t think it’s beautiful anymore, because I know what it means. Cancer doesn’t just poison your body—it poisons your mind, heart and soul. It’s something that sticks with you, even long after the cancers gone.

Every time I go back for a check up, I worry that it’s going to be back. Whenever I get a headache, I have this split second of a fear that it’s a brain tumor, even if that’s jumping to a huge conclusion. I worry about every single friend who complains about an unseen ache or pain, especially someone who complains about neck swelling. I think about how I’m only twenty-something, and I’ve already had to face the c-word. I think about people every day are dying from cancers worse than mine, and how I was lucky, but how can a better cancer that’s still cancer be lucky? I also think about the people are surviving a fight more difficult than mine. How they’re resilient and strong and brave, and how I admire them.

The fact is, cancer—any cancer—is scary. Two years out and I still think about it, and I think that I always will. I’ll always be afraid that it’ll return in some way, shape, or form, and I’ll always hope that, if it does, I’ll be strong, too.

So why am I intimidated by writing about cancer? Because the death and survival of cancer is a tragic twist of strength, and you have to do it justice. You can’t make cancer it’s own character, Cancer, but you also can’t let it fall to the background. You have to show that a character is stronger than it, that it’s a part of the character, but also that it’s not something that character is ruled by. After all, cancer can’t be a character because it can’t be dynamic, it can’t have a Happily Ever After, and it can’t have traits, emotions, or a specific physicality.

I’m about 43,000 words into a novel that I work on, abandon, work on, abandon.  It’s a novel about a cancer worse than mine, one that’s gone but left its mark, and I keep trying to go back to it, but then I worry that it’s not good enough. I mean, what if I’m not doing it justice? Maybe the fear is also, what if I am?

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