I’m not fighting cancer. Even though there’s a grade 3 tumor in my breast, vaguely star-shaped and roughly the size of a quarter. Even though some of my lymph nodes are potentially conspiring against me. Even though I’m about to have a mastectomy, and eventually chemo.
I’m not fighting — I’m surrendering. To the complete unknown. To the random. To my body. To people. To science. To holy shit there is nothing I can do. To God.
I’m saying uncle to the wild and uncontrollable holy mess that has always been swirling just underneath my best-laid plans. The swirl is under everyone’s plans, not just mine, it’s just a common courtesy among us humans that we mostly collectively ignore it. None of us have a lick of real control, but still we go about our days, buying bins at the Container Store and taking gingko biloba supplements. We buckle our seat belts and put money in the bank. We fight our waistlines, our hairlines, our cable companies, our partners, gravity. We rearrange our timelines, toggling between the top stories and the most recent ones.
I’ve always been a fighter. I’ve punched a bully or two in the nose on the playgrounds of my youth. I’ve kicked a few demons to the curb. But now I’m trying a different tack. Because no matter what I do, no matter how many kale smoothies I drink, no matter how many positive mantras I chant, no matter how many rounds of chemo I go through, no matter how much breast tissue my surgeons scrape off my body, I have no control over any of this. The cancer might come back. The lymph nodes might be wily, well-organized little fuckers. The bin I bought at the Container Store might crack. Facebook might change the algorithm again.
I’m not a pessimist. In fact, I’m a bit of a Pollyanna — I’m just not dumb. Sometimes it’s just plain easier to win when you don’t follow the rules, and surrendering to my diagnosis seems like cheating to win. And I’ll take this win anyway I can get it. Surrender feels like I’m telling my cells-gone-wild: Go ahead, have your way with me. I want them to get comfortable, thinking their days aren’t numbered, and then BOOM! Sneak attack.
But first, I give up.
I need my family more than ever, so I surrender. I need my boyfriend to be steady and understanding when I’m off the rails, so I surrender. I need my friends to make me soup and drive me to Target, so I surrender. I need God to help me stay soft, so I surrender.
That’s my only real battle plan. I’m giving myself over to the collective skills and expertise of wise women: my breast surgeon, my plastic surgeon and my oncologist. And after surgery I’ll let my mother wash and comb my hair when I can’t lift my arms. I barely let her do that when I was a toddler. I surrender, Mom.
If I’m fighting anything, it's the instinct to wallow. I’m punching down the urge to blame all the great steaks I’ve had in my life. Stifling the impulse to point the finger at myself, at plastic water bottles, at a long-dead grandmother I never met. I’m pushing to maintain my way of life. To keep laughing. To stay who I am. To not be broken. But that’s different from doing battle, it’s just the care and maintenance we all have to do.
I will be as aggressive as possible. I’ll do everything medically, nutritionally, spiritually and emotionally that I can. But I won’t be leaning in, I’ll be lying back. And I won’t be wearing boxing gloves.
I will survive, but it won’t be Gloria Gaynor singing my anthem, it will be Sly Stone singing “Que Sera, Sera.”
So take your best shot, cancer. My money’s on me.