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Why I'm Not Fighting for My Life

Photograph by Twenty20

For the past couple of years I've been seeing doctors about a lump on my breast. It took a year for me to finally decide to have the surgery recommended by my doctor. I was surprised afterward when my surgeon suggested that I see an oncologist and a radiologist, and that I consider several different forms of treatment, although the lump was found to be stage-zero cancer. And so for the past few months I've been having a great many conversations about cancer, treatments and my health. Although it has been scary, it has also been freeing.

RELATED: Why I Finally Decided to Have Surgery for My Breast Lump

After getting my diagnosis, the first thing I did was ask my doctors to explain what is causing this cancer. In my case, my body is producing estrogen but not assimilating it well. And so the very hormone that makes me a woman is backfiring and starting to create something that could kill me.

My next question was about how to stop my body from creating more estrogen than it needs. I also asked whether there might be foods I'm eating or any behaviors that might contribute to increased estrogen production, and whether there are natural ways to decrease the estrogen levels in my body.

Yes, I said it, I am going to die. ... The only thing that makes thinking and saying this difficult is being a mother.

While the changes and explanations were life-altering and at times distressing, there are several wonderful things I've gotten from this breast cancer experience. The best thing? Cancer has opened me to thoughts of death. Because there is one thing I know for sure: I am going to die.

Yes, I said it, I am going to die. It likely won't be soon, and it likely will not be due to breast cancer or this go-round of it, but I'm going to die. The only thing that makes thinking and saying this difficult is being a mother. Having lost my parents at a young age, the thought of my son living without a mother just wrecks me. It wrecks me because my knowledge about death is so one-sided. All I know about death is what it's like to have people you love die.

What I don't know about is what it's like when that person is yourself. I don't want to fear what I don't know, and I don't want to waste any time projecting sorrow onto my son. But a cancer diagnosis has a way of doing that, and it sucks. It sucks that we think death is awful and that whenever it happens, we apologize. It sucks that we seem to only have fear and sorrow attached to our experiences of death. This just feels wrong to me.

It's common to hear people with cancer diagnoses reference their healing process as a fight for their lives. But thoughts of fighting for my life take me back to my childhood, the poverty, the emotional devastation and how I felt fighting to get out of that reality. It was agonizing, exhausting and depleting in nearly every way. Once I found authentic joy, I decided I'd never fight again because it makes me feel bad in my heart and soul.

So I don't want to fight for my life. I only want to live my life. To me, the energy of fighting would just make my existence stressful and joyless. I need joy to live my life. I need to have fun in order to live my life. And that's more important than fighting.

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I've come to realize that a cancer diagnosis doesn't mean death and it doesn't mean an infirmity either. Cancer means that something in our bodies is going wrong. If it goes on too long without detection, it will take over and kill us. If we detect it early we can change our behavior, get treatment and hopefully live longer. But death is imminent, with our without cancer.

For the first time I'm considering death without holding my breath. I'm going to die one day, but not before I live today.

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