I’ve never really spoken about my experience with cancer, other than stating the fact that I had it a long time ago and then quickly brushing the whole thing aside before people’s faces sadden with an unwarranted sympathy. I’m not inhibited about mentioning it, but mentioning it is as far as I’ll tend to go. I’ve just never really felt it necessary to go on or to make people uncomfortable, but I’m afraid I’d like to now, though, for a moment. Doing so is quite unsettling for me and I’m starting to suppose it shouldn’t be. So please indulge me as I take a moment to share a little story about myself and rid my shoulder of a teeny gremlin that’s been getting me down for so long.
It happened at a time when there was little that I understood about life. I was just a quiet kid, doing the things that shy kids do. I was never a centre-of-attention kind of child. I mostly clung to my mom or kept myself to myself. Being at ease in my own company was a trait gifted to me at birth, intrinsic to my nature. I was content. Nothing much stands out about my early days just as nothing really stands out about that day. Nothing more than telling my mom that I thought I’d drunk too much blackcurrant juice that afternoon and showing her my reason for thinking so. What happened after that is mostly a blur to this day. It was an evening, that’s all I remember. Our bathroom looked much like it does now. The familiarity of setting is all I can place. Together with an air of worry, but no understanding that I was the cause of it.
A series of events commenced after that evening in the bathroom. I remember the places and the faces, but I don’t remember feeling anything. I remember no pain, physical or emotional. I remember no fear. No sadness. No anxiety. None more than the feelings I had always known and felt at the age where I knew nothing about most things. I was just a quiet little kid reacting to new life experiences in the same way I always had. The places may have been new and the faces had indeed changed, but I hadn’t. I didn’t know any different. I didn’t ponder on the emotions of others in my state of immaturity. I didn’t desire to know why sorrow sat behind the eyes of those who looked upon me. I didn’t think to ask if everything was OK. I didn’t worry about them, despite their worry for me. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. And so the time went on.
Nothing changed about me, during those months, other than having a lot less hair and one less internal organ. I went on being that quiet little kid doing the things that shy kids do. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised I had even had cancer. I had heard the word “tumour” so many times, but it didn’t mean anything. How silly. To have gone through such a thing with no inclination of what it is that you are going through. It was probably better that way. Replace “tumour” with “cancer” and my five year old mind would have known no different. But could swapping those words have eliminated such a mind shifting discovery for my older self? I don’t recall exactly how I put it together or if it was someone that told me, and it matters not, but that realisation was the point at which I began to think about mortality and I have not stopped ever since. A mind metamorphosis.
At times obsessive, but never overtly so, my thoughts about existence have shaped mine. I have no understanding or depth of knowledge after devoting so many hours to these thoughts – perhaps why they still dominate – but if I let go, or stop trying to understand, I fear that will be the very end of my existence. It’s not spiritual by our definitions of spirituality. I don’t prescribe to any religions. (I have no faith in the human influences on such). But I do question whether I’m supposed to be here, still in this world, and every time I come to the same conclusion.
I’m left now with feelings of deep responsibility. A weight sits upon my shoulders that I often struggle under. Not all the time, though. Sometimes it fills me with joy, to carry this weight. It’s a complicated burden, but I’m ultimately grateful for it because it makes me feel. It’s the only time I really feel anything of any worth. It’s the only way I know how to connect with this world that I still manage to be here living in. To be useful. Be useful or just don’t be. I feel like this is the way everyone thinks and that I’m just the same as everyone else, but the years have taught me that I’m not quite. I sit ever so slightly on the outside of this life, but not detached from it. I loathe selfishness in others because, in myself, in my being here, I feel that selfishness is the antithesis to existence. I must do or I must die. A little extreme in its simplicity, maybe, but it’s just what I have grown to believe in the years since my shift in thoughts. I am wracked with guilt in every moment that I’m not doing something or planning to do something of use to another. I just can’t be motivated by self interest. I can’t. I am, sometimes. I am too often. It is crippling. The worst part is the knowing that all of this is ultimately motivated by a selfish desire to rid myself of the guilt I feel for being here living such a pointless life. But what exactly is the point?
I know better than all of this, but my mind circles the same track, time and time again, unable to find an exit. Sometimes I see a beacon of light, a direction to the way out, but I swerve past it and continue the loop. I’d rather find my own way out, in my own time. I continue to revisit what memories I have left so often because I find respite in the lack of emotion or feeling. I feel free in that memory of the time that shaped so much of my life. I suppose, in a way, it is comforting to me, who now attaches so much importance to so many trivial things. I’ll never let go of that part of it. I’m grateful for it.
I don’t know what good it will do to share this, if any, but I suppose, at times, we all need to share a little piece of our innermost selves in order to connect with each other and with the world we live in. I have carved out an existence in which I keep the world at arm’s length while trying, at the same time, to save it, one tiny act of selflessness at a time. This, however, is not my burden to bear. It’s all of ours. We all have a responsibility towards each other, a duty of care. It feels a lot like this is something we need reminding of more and more these days. I won’t let my past burden me or get me down any longer. That it reminds me of my humanity is something that, possibly, connects me to this world more than I have ever realised until this very moment.