I’ve long been one to defend the rights of all cancer patients (and everyone, for that matter) to self-identify with whatever language makes sense for them. I certainly won’t judge those who identify as victim or survivor. But I know many, many patients – especially metastatic patients – who loathe the war analogies. Yet I haven’t been able to reject them out of hand. I think, in part, because sometimes this disease does feel like a battle and that I’m fighting for my life and in part because it has become so engrained in our collective psyche that we don’t really have much to replace it with.
But during last night’s restorative yoga class, which I really wanted to skip out on, things started to make sense. Unfortunately it meant my mind was racing throughout the class, but if that leads to clarity, so be it.
I don’t know how cancer came into the studio with me, perhaps the news of a friend starting hospice and another prepared to die. In death language becomes even more important. We risk blaming the patient for not fighting hard enough or losing the battle. I know what I don’t want said about me, but I’m not sure what I do want said.
So in that yoga class…the room is dimly lit, my eyes are closed and hands open, I breathe. Breathing is good… The instructor tells us to surrender our bodies to the earth, allow gravity to pull us down and hold our weight.
Imagine a battlefield. You’re hunkered down with your troops – the enemy is out there, but you don’t quite know where. You could be attacked tonight or ambushed on a mission tomorrow. Every sound makes you jump, so you keep your gun close. You’ve lost friends already, and you may be next. But for now you’re one of the lucky ones – you’re still fighting. Which is to say, you’re giving everything you have to win, irrespective of the toll it might take, the damage to oneself and others, be their comrades or enemies. Win, lose, draw – on a micro level war is only destructive.
I let my body sink into the ground, I recognize that I’m not in control of my fate. I eat well, exercise sorta, take my meds, and fervently hope for the best, which often borders on praying.I do what I can, but I don’t allow cancer to control me. Sometimes you just need a glass of wine or a chocolate bar. So be it.
But what if we put the guns away? Set down our swords and spears? What if we seek peace, at any price, rather than another fight? What happens to us if we don’t fight? Does that mean we’ve given up, or does it mean that we’re wise enough to see that fighting sucks precious energy, leads our attention away from enjoying life?
I have always tried to steer clear of battle language, but in thinking about what it means to surrender, to truly let go, I see even more clearly how I cannot do both at once. Life isn’t about living to fight another day, rather it is about living each day fully, building rather than breaking down, honoring growth over death.
I’m not fighting – I’m living. That will have to be language enough…
What do you think? Can you, at once, live life to the fullest and be engaged in battle? And if war metaphors don’t work for you, what does?