A couple of people have directed my attention to a book of cartoons entitled Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics, by Miriam Engelberg, who died of breast cancer in 2006. The title alone makes me smile, and the cartoons (at least the ones I've seen here) make me positively cackle.
In a week when a positive attitude has seemed as far out of reach as the moon, it's heartening to see someone poke fun at the tendency people have to describe their cancerous loved ones as being so "full of life." A caption showing two people standing over a coffin reads, "You'll never hear these comments at a funeral ... 'I still can't believe it. She was so blasé about life!' 'I never met a more lackluster person!'"
I wonder if she skewers the whole notion that cancer survivors are somehow stronger than the rest of us. That one gets me sometimes, when people tell me, "You're so strong. You'll get through this because you're strong." Well, no. I am not strong. I cry over my breakfast cereal like the weakest ninny. I feel sorry for myself. On bad chemo days, I spend nearly full days in bed sometimes. I alternate between hating God, not believing in God, hoping God can carry me through this and shamelessly begging God to let me live. I do what I do because I have no choice in the matter, and so would anyone else. I get through the day not because I am especially strong but because there is nothing else I can do.
Do I draw upon reserves of strength that most people don't have to tap? Maybe. But I think of other people who have undergone tremendous ordeals in their lives: losing a sibling, losing parents, losing a child, having one or more miscarriages, not being able to have a baby at all, having multiple sclerosis, having a marriage fail, having no luck finding love, struggling with depression or alcoholism, losing a home or a family in the midst of war. I think of what Steve is going through as he watches me try to cope and contemplates a life without me. Everyone bears crosses. Everyone has to summon up some extra strength sometimes. My ability to endure this cancer does not make me any more remarkable than the next person. I am just someone who is sick and trying not to let it beat me down, even if some days it does feel like it's beating me. If strength is trying to live my life in spite of how much I hate what's happening to my body, then maybe I'm strong. But I happen to think the will to live is part of the human condition. If I'm strong, everyone is strong.
I have to admit, though, being able to laugh at something as nasty and unfunny as cancer makes me feel a little stronger. So I'm definitely going to add this book to my list.
(Edited to add: There have been some interesting comments here, so if anyone wants to continue this discussion in the comments section, please feel free.)