Chronically terminal rumination

 Last week I published a post about ways of referring to people with cancer at different phases of the disease (Cancer Words), mostly based on an article and a letter in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. (The link will take you to a Medscape Nurses review of the discussion.)

You know how a cow chews her cud? (Bear with me here.) She ingests her food and it goes into the first part of her alimentary canal, the rumen. Then she regurgitates the partially digested food and chews it up some more. This is called chewing her cud, and it is the characteristic of animals we class as ruminants.

Now then. This should make it clear that ruminating is not unlike throwing up a little in your mouth, an unpleasantness I try to avoid. On the other hand, some concepts do bear more than just passing consideration, and how to refer to my disease is one such. (Okay, at this point I should probably let you all know that I’m writing this post while under the influence of oxycodone. Keep up with the drivel, and we’ll ultimately get somewhere together.)

My problem with the terminology can be summed up like this:

  • I am not a survivor. I haven’t died of cancer, but there are secondary tumors at various places in my body. Active cancer.
  • I am not terminally ill. That is, I am terminally ill, but not in the sense of qualifying for hospice at this point.
  • I am chronically ill, but not in the sense of someone who has schizophrenia or diabetes or hypertension, in that I will eventually die of this chronic illness, God willing.

(“God willing” meaning that I’ll die of cancer unless  a war or terrorist attack or something, which is not all that unlikely around here, kills me first. Or the end of the world. Whatever. The point is, I’d rather live out the span allowed me, even with chronically terminal or terminally chronic cancer.)

In a very real sense, I am Living in an Undefined Space. I often say I am living with cancer, but cancer does not play well with others and is not a good roommate. I wrote about this in one of my very first posts, Have I survived yet? At that time, I wrote:

Living with doesn’t always mean “liking” or even “getting along”. Successfully living with a spouse or a roommate or in a family means respecting each other’s personal space, not impinging on their rights, not imposing our own will on the other one without their consent. Sometimes it means speaking up, protecting our space and our rights because the other one doesn’t respect them. I didn’t invite cancer into my life, but in it came. Cancer is not good at sharing space, does not play well with others. Okay, then. That’s a reality I have to deal with. Cancer and I are living in the same body now, so how can we do that successfully?

Over a year and a half later, I can say two things with certainty:

I am still alive. (Yay!)

I still don’t have the answer.

13 thoughts on “Chronically terminal rumination

  1. Your body may not be co-operating as well as you may like, and you may feel a bit befuddled with the drugs, but oh how you can think, pose questions, and challenge others to think. Thank you.
    Blessings and prayers

  2. I love a good, provocative question almost more than I care about having definitive answers…you ask such questions with eloquence.

    I think even those of us who are not presently metastatic fumble with labels and descriptions. People often will say things to me like, “yay, you beat cancer”…or, “hey, at least you caught it early”…early being relative (stage IIb). And anyway, those are big assumptions. Am I a survivor? I am still here, 4 yrs so far, no metastasis has shown up YET. But how do I know it won’t? Until I die of something else, I am not really a survivor so much as I am survivING…still in the process, so is anyone still alive, I think. I know I’m a cancer veteran, have had my own personal experience with it. Other than that….?

    This topic is a good one, ruminate away.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Kayleigh. I do think that both the stage at diagnosis and our current status in/after/during treatment have a lot to do with the words we prefer. I’m thinking about that a lot lately.

      I hope you’ll be back to read and comment again.

  3. You are still alive! Yah! Wonderful post Knot’s… I love your writing; thinking; ruminating. And thank you for the link to your earlier post, “I am living in an undefined space”. I find it so helpful to read such honesty, it’s validating to find that certain fears and thoughts are shared by others with this disease.

    • Your comment is so good for my ego–or maybe “bad for my ego”; you might give me a swelled head!

      I’m glad my posts mean something to you. I liked the “undefined space” post, too. We’re pioneers in a way, you know. Breast cancer with mets used to mean a relatively rapid death. Now we can live on for quite a while, trying to negotiate our way through what another writer has called “dying in public”.

  4. Pingback: I wish I were a survivor | Telling Knots

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