Another Saturday newspaper full of obituaries. Another roll call of compatriots who “lost their battle with cancer.”  Those lengthy, brief, dignified, painful battles.

(And why are they always brave or courageous? I plan on going out pleading, cursing and settling old scores, as there’s no real down side at that point, and it should provide some fun drama for those assembled bedside.)

Whenever I read death notices, I flinch wearily at the word “battle.” Framed that way, we predetermine that there shall be a winner, and a loser.

I understand some families want to remember their loved ones as fighters who did not go quietly into that dark night. Unfortunately, obituary sections, by their nature, only chronicle the dark nights.

Maybe we need a weekly section of ads that profile people living with cancer, getting stronger, shedding tumours, and entering remission. We could call it “Still Here.”  It could describe people retiring in Mexico, or becoming great-grandparents, flipping the bird to their former lymphomas, melanomas and othernomas.

Until then, how about a new word?

After two bouts of chemo, three operations, radiation and a pending gamma knife, plus many months of strength and good times, I think I am “negotiating” with cancer. We are “in talks.”  Cancer has been wanting to work with me for a long time, and we may green light that (more a red light, I guess). Or we may agree to “go in another direction.” “Consciously uncouple,” they call it these days. My people (doctors, nurses, counsellors) are in meetings with cancer’s  people (tumours, tumours and, um, tumours).

I will bargain with cancer. I will squabble. I will flirt, haggle, ignore and hang out with cancer. I will let it tag along while I travel, eat, sleep, breathe and love.

If this is the final act, let’s focus on Ireland, New York, Disneyland, beach trips, the McCartney concert and acting in the final season of HBO’s Less Than Kind wearing fake eyebrows made of rabbit fur. And Will and Robin and black coffee in the morning. And so many people working so hard to save me.

And if their efforts ultimately fail, please don’t say I lost a battle to cancer. I lost my life, and it’s been a winner.


6 thoughts on “Battle-weary

  1. Wow! I hope if life ever gives me lemons I can make lemonade the way you are Big Diseasey! You are an inspiration to those living with cancer and the others who think small problems in life are huge. You make me step back and say “ya, it’s ok….no, it’s better than ok!”

  2. Lovely piece and very astute. I have always hated the ‘battle’ cliché, with its implicit suggestion that if you die it’s because you just didn’t try hard enough, or sent the troops to the wrong front or something. (I’m also leery of ‘cancer survivor’ labels for similar reasons.)
    This could be the last act for any of us. I’m going to Disneyland.

  3. Mike, I had to blink back a number of tears reading this (and other posts) but I also laugh, smile, and consistently share your entries with my friends and classmates at school. You continue to teach me so much. I’m wishing you, Robin and Will the best.

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