The Invisible Snake

Empty TankI was listening to an audio book, a detective novel by Jeffery Deaver called XO, part of the Kathryn Dance series. The story is about a young country singer who is being stalked. This stalker is very clever, very intelligent, very skilled at not being where he might be expected to be and showing up in unexpected places at unexpected times. The singer, not surprisingly, is terrified.

A local police detective tells a story. (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have a print copy of the text.) One summer, he recalls, he saw a huge rattle snake in his back yard. The biggest rattler you’ve ever seen. He went into the house to get his handgun to kill it, but by the time he got back outside it was nowhere to be seen. Was it under the steps? Behind the barbecue? In the shrubbery? Underneath the house? Inside a pool toy? He couldn’t find it anywhere. “The invisible snake,” he called it, making it a joke for the sake of his frightened children.

But that invisible snake, he said, ruined the back yard for him and his family that season. They couldn’t go outside and enjoy it because no one knew where the snake was, and one of them might end up getting bit, maybe even one of the small children. That snake was more frightening invisible than it was in plain sight.

I thought of this during a Facebook conversation with Jody Schoger about a blog post by Uppity Cancer Patient called “If, Not When“. Uppity Cancer Patient (UCP) and I have different points of view about this, and Jody and I differ, too. I don’t know UCP personally, I’ll leave her out of this for now (but if you’re reading, please jump in and join us in the comments).

UCP writes about the “land of if” (treatments stop working) and the “land of when”. You really should read the entire post (at the link above), but here is a taste:

I don’t want live in the Land of When.  That’s like living in Purgatory, and I hear from the Catholics that that’s not a pleasant place.  I want to live in the Land of If instead. A land where the question is, if the cancer progresses?  If I am disabled? If.

That’s the land that most people live in. Most people don’t go through the day thinking, I will be disabled, I will be in pain, I will suffer.   What can it hurt for me to live in the Land of If too? I might be disappointed if the cancer progresses? 

I’d rather experience disappointment if the cancer progresses, than to experience  that disappointment every day of my life.  Even if I only live 30 more days, living in the Land of If sounds much more pleasant than living in fear.

I don’t know anything about UCP’s current health status, other than that she is living with metastatic cancer. I don’t know how long ago that started or where her mets is or any of the rest of it. I know that Jody has written in her blog that after fifteen years of being NED (having no evidence of disease):

The scans showed a different, but not rare, metastatic trail. There is nothing in the lungs or liver; but lymph node involvement and small nodules in the peritoneum and along a lymph chain that travels behind the diaphragm. There are positive nodes in the left axilla and neck, which were discovered by ultrasound. There is NO second primary cancer.

Jody has said online that although she has lost a lot of weight, she doesn’t feel particularly unwell at this point.

My metastasis was found by the end of my first year living with breast cancer; it is in the bone. I’ve had these bone tumors for over eight years now. They hurt. They interfere with my daily life and I’ve had to start taking narcotics for the pain. Over the last year, the mets has progressed more than it has in the several years prior and I’ve been having increased pain.

I am most definitely living in the “land of when”. I have kind of a theory that people who are newly diagnosed and those who are NED populate the “land of if”. I know I can’t live there any more. For me, it would be flying in the face of reality. For me, it is not a question of if treatment stops working but when it will.

This is one of those issues with no right or wrong answer, and I am very interested in what other people living with cancer and their family, friends and caregivers think about living in the “land of when” and the “land of if”.

How do you feel about the invisible snake?