My Life, My Narrative, My Future
The problem with trying to tell your own story is that you know it too well. I could try to explain to you every event that has taken place over the past few years of my life, but it would take, well, a few years, not to mention that it would devolve into the random, often directionless meandering of everyday life. There’s a lot more than just one thing going on in a life. Sometimes you have to choose a narrative, and stick with it.
I’ll give it a try, I guess. I’ll tell you one of my stories.
It begins quite a few years back, further than I can really remember, with my mother. Her lung carcinoid cancer came, went, and took half of a lung with it on the way out when I was only in Kindergarten. Now, she can’t breathe as well as she used to, can no longer keep up with the rest of the family on day hikes, and the seven inch scar on her back is physical evidence of what she has overcome.
When I was in middle school, she was diagnosed with another, unrelated cancer: an aggressive sarcoma in her pelvis. She underwent chemotherapy and proton radiation, lost all of her hair, and eventually grew it back. She can no longer strenuously exercise because of pain in her back, can’t join the rest of the family on backpacking trips, and the IV port that remains underneath her collarbone is evidence that the tumor, though stable, still lurks within her, threatening to grow and spread.
You would think that would be enough for anyone, but, as my mom so accurately puts it, we don’t do anything halfway in this family.
In the midst of her sarcoma treatment, my mom tested positive for a cancer-related genetic mutation called TP53, otherwise known as Li-Fraumeni syndrome. Any medical condition whose number one autofill suggestion in the Google search bar is “life expectancy” can’t be good, and it isn’t. A mutation in the gene that is supposed to prevent rapid cell growth in tumors puts my mom at risk for an entire buffet of cancers. Knowing this, it wasn’t surprising when she was diagnosed with breast cancer just over a year later.
We also found out that this mutation is genetic, with a fifty-percent chance of inheritance. Both my brother and I were tested. His test came back negative, mine positive.
It took awhile for me to come to terms with the fate pre-written into my cells. Now, I undergo routine cancer screening, waiting for the time when the ultrasound tech hesitates, taking a few extra pictures in a particular spot. The time when an MRI result takes a little longer than usual to come back. The time I know everything will change, and not for the better.
We really don’t do anything halfway in this family, do we? My cancer story will never end. I will be dealing with this until the day I die, and so will my mom. Where John Green’s character Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars claimed that cancer was a side effect of dying, for some of us, it’s actually a side effect of living.
Living, however, is exactly what I will do. After crying a little initially, I recognized that I wasn’t going to die the very next day and did some of what you might call soul-searching. The way I saw it, I basically had two options. I could be miserable, or not. I chose not.
Now, as I tell my story, with its interwoven narratives, I choose to focus on the moments of happiness within an otherwise stormy sky. I choose to remember moments of laughter, like how, even after many visits, my mom and I still mix up which hospital building to enter for blood work, as opposed to the one for ultrasounds. I choose to remember moments of love, like the secret “mutant” handshake my mom and I made up together. I choose to remember moments of solace, like how whenever I see a shooting star in the night sky, I think of how truly insignificant my problems are compared to the spectacular enormity of the cosmos. I choose the light over dark, hope over despair, laughter over tears.
I have confidence in my ability to persevere. I am proud to wake up every day a fighter, determined to continue on, no matter what happens. I will choose my own path for the future, my own attitude towards life, and my own narrative. I will find humor and happiness each day. And, come as it will, I will not be defined by this thing called cancer.