Friday, March 16, 2012

But I Only Had a "Little Bit" of Cancer

Recently in an email exchange, another gastrectomy patient made the comment that he doesn't like to talk about his cancer, having not gone through chemo or radiation therapy.
I don't like telling people that I had "cancer" because I didn't have chemotherapy, never felt like my life was in immediate jeopardy, never went through any of the hardships that other HDGC patients go through.

That struck me immediately, because I understand precisely how he feels. My reply:
I know EXACTLY what you are saying! I've always felt weird about it. And feel even weirder about feeling weird about it. It's very hard to explain to people, isn't it?

Even now I have a hard time putting this discomfort into words. It's almost as if I feel that I didn't have cancer "that bad," if that makes any sense. Most patients have fought so much harder and so much longer, it's very hard to consider myself a survivor.

It's something I continue to struggle with. I was talking to my nieces recently about forming a team for Relay for Life. If you are not familiar with Relay, it is a 24 hour fundraising event benefiting The American Cancer Society (ACS) where teams combine their efforts to both raise money and take turns running or walking around a track or other course for the full 24 hours.

Relay has a carnival-like atmosphere, with teams selling items or offering services in exchange for donations that go directly to ACS. There's food and games and entertainment. It's used as a time to remember those lost to cancer and celebrate those who have survived.

Some family members have participated in varying degrees over the past 10 years or so. For years now we've been talking about forming a team again. We all think it's a great idea, but no one ever gets around to organizing it. So this year I decided to take charge and register as the captain to get things going.

The first problem was deciding on a team name. (We're still working on that). But then I came to another huge roadblock. When you register to participate in Relay for Life they ask you if you want to participate as a survivor.

Which brings me to my dilemma. There are a few different events during Relay in which cancer survivors can participate. One is the Survivor's lap, which is sometimes used as the first lap of the event. For some reason, I just can't see myself walking that lap. Was I diagnosed with cancer? Yep. Did I go to an oncologist? Sure, twice. Did I have my stomach removed? Oh yes, I did. Have I survived cancer? Well, yeah, but ... I'm not sure I fully see it that way.

Another Relay tradition is a special Survivor's Dinner. A few years ago, when questioned why they didn't participate in the Survivor's Dinner at a Relay event, two of my family members remarked that they didn't sign up for the dinner simply because, without a stomach, they felt they would be wasting food as they would be unable to eat the whole meal. I'm with them 100%. That makes complete and total sense to me. No Survivors's Dinner for me. Maybe if they let three or four of us split one meal ... but that's too much to think about.

Maybe I'm making too big a deal of it. According to the Relay website,
"A survivor is anyone who has ever heard the words 'You have cancer.' "
So I suppose in an official capacity, I am one. It's just something that I have a hard time acknowledging. And I'm not sure why.

I somehow feel I don't belong in the same league as people who have undergone multiple surgeries, endured the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy and the ravages of radiation. I certainly don't mean to belittle the struggles of someone who has undergone gastrectomy. I know these struggles well; I live with them every day. But I almost feel a sense of guilt in that the road could have been much harder for me, and wasn't.

So for now I'll just have to keep my participation in such events low-key, at least until I mentally define how I fit into the role of a "survivor."

There's not much to it yet, but here's a little linky to our team website for Relay for Life.