I spend some of my time these days in various online support groups for people with cancer experiences like mine. Discussions aren’t about, like, how we’re all gonna die and maybe sooner than we thought, but about breast reconstruction choices: flat? Implants? Various genres of flaps? Etc. Some people defend their choices as the best choice for everybody (people who choose no reconstruction seem particularly prone to the universal claim), there’s a whole evidence-free argument against implants because they “cause” everything from fatigue to rashes to rage (I suspect we get these things anyway), it’s a little like Yelp where you only hear about poor service and not from relatively satisfied consumers. (I’m one of those; my implants are healing fine, sometimes I feel like a monster, sometimes I felt like a monster before this all happened, bodies are monstrous sometimes.)
I think we circle around this because it’s the one choice most of us get to make. I mean, I guess I could choose a non-chemo natural approach to “living with cancer” but I believe in evidence based medicine. I work in the library at a university with a nursing school. But this is a choice we get to make about our bodies in a moment of radically handing them over to something we can’t control at all. I go back for my next infusion in the morning having had approximately 2.5 days when I felt cognitively and physically capable of directing the movement of my self through the world. (Probably that’s always an illusion, but it’s a really useful one to live with most of the time, just in terms of quality of life.)
I also think it’s more about attitude than I would have expected. I know we’re all supposed to hate the “positive attitude” message around cancer. I certainly don’t always have one. Many moments in this where I don’t want to be in a body at all anymore. But I do think a tendency to acknowledge that we have some choices and not others (I could not choose to keep my old body, though that was the obvious first choice), that our choices have consequences (I have silicone implants in my chest that continue to heal and require management and will need to be replaced in ten years), and that those consequences are live-with-able because what else are you going to do, that “positive attitude” has been helpful to me through this.