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.