Life through the lens of cancer

Though I never set out with a concrete idea of what this blog would be about, I’ve mainly only discussed my running. But I realized there is a big part of my life that I’ve (not necessarily on purpose) never discussed. Mostly I felt that some of the experiences were not mine to share*, but after encouragement from Scott, I’ve decided to share away.

 

So, how to begin? Ahem.

 

I’m in a relationship with someone with an incurable** form of cancer. As frightening as that sounds, the cancer has never seemed incredibly dire or life threatening (Scott can attest to that). However we’ve learned in retrospect that it was incredibly dire and life threatening, which makes me shudder to think about. But right now Scott is stable. His cancer isn’t growing. He isn’t ‘suffering’ from cancer per se. He does still experience side effects of the chemotherapy he was on for over a year, but he can carry on with daily life mostly unimpeded. He runs 7 days a week, leads a vegan straight-edge life and is (aside from the cancer) ridiculously healthy. So healthy that we often forget about it.

 

But no, not really. We never forget about it. It’s always there, looming in our conversations about the future and about his son and about us. Scott, always a realist, jokes about his cancer frequently. “I won’t live that long!” he says when I say I hope we’re weird old folks. Usually these comments bring me down. But of course I think about them too. I’m only 27, I’ve already been married once, and currently I’m on no trajectory to have children. Am I just going to be alone when I’m old and grey?

 

Before I get to my thoughts on that let me start from the beginning. I first met learned of Scott through his blog. I’d been a vegetarian and a runner for years so naturally his blog was something I came across. I have read it intermittently since around 2010 and I attribute one of his posts to really bolstering my choice to go vegan. When I moved to Kansas after getting married in 2012 I submerged myself in the world of blogs and social media. I was so incredibly alone and isolated then – blogs were such a refuge for me. I had also at this point, started and then quit my job working in a lab doing rodent research, read Scott Jurek’s book and gone vegan for month stretches. I became even more interested in Scott’s blog and his passion for veganism and radical politics.

 

I remember catching myself up on his blog after I’d missed a few posts and saw that he’d just been diagnosed with cancer. It was surprising and saddening to me – but ultimately he was a stranger. I still felt connected to him as anyone who has read his blog for years can say. Scott writes with so much emotion and eloquence that it’s hard not to feel like you know him a bit. I sent him a card towards a donation fund a friend had set up and remember getting excited when I got a hand written thank you note in return.

 

But wait, hold on. Wasn’t I married at this point?

 

My personal life at this point and time – about 6 months into my marriage – was spiraling. I don’t really want to revisit the details, but let’s just say my ex was not a positive influence on my self-esteem. I felt like I was walking on eggshells all the time. I had just completely up-heaved my life for him (switched from a PhD to a MS degree and moved away from my family and friends to a town where I knew no one) so I was FREAKING OUT at the idea that it was going to fall apart. I didn’t know what I would do if that happened. So I basically was trying everything I could to keep it together, all the while not admitting to myself that I wasn’t happy in the least. If anything, my desire to connect with Scott should have been an indicator that something was wrong in my marriage.

 

So yes, I was married. But aside from occasionally commenting on his blog, or liking his Instagram posts I wasn’t really interacting with him. So I knew Scott had cancer, and had surgery and was basically not able to run for the time being. I followed his progress on his blog and Instagram and was happy to see him trying to return to his normal life. But his cancer was still at a distance. He seemed fine and active, but sometimes depressed about his situation.

 

My marriage ended in August and I completely shut down. I moved out, I deleted all of my social media accounts and holed myself up with Lily (my cat) in my nice new empty apartment. I barely reached out to friends, I tried to hide it from my parents and I didn’t tell anyone at work for months. Looking back I can’t believe I dealt with divorce that way, I can’t believe I did it all almost entirely alone. It was a very bleak time in my life.

 

I slowly reconnected with the world and made a new Instagram account and connected with Scott again. I realized my interest in Scott wasn’t just admiration from a far – I wanted to actually know him. After a cryptically flirtatious Instagram exchange, I sent him an email. I had no idea if he would even know who I was (I thought he was blog-famous, we laugh at this now) but he did and we immediately started talking. What started as a few timid text messages back and forth quickly jumped to daily phone calls and skype conversations. I don’t want to bore you with all the gooey details of our beginning relationship, but very early in our talks Scott emphasized to me that if I ever became too overwhelmed by his cancer situation I ‘had an out’.

 

Did I really asses what it meant to get into a relationship with someone whose health situation was unpredictable? Yes, I did – but the decision was easy. I knew that regardless of what ever happened to Scott, getting to know him would be worth it. And the decision was basically made before I could make it. I had feelings for him that I couldn’t just ignore because they weren’t convenient. 

 

Anyways, mushy-ness aside – being in a relationship with someone with cancer can be challenging. I never had a ‘before cancer’ Scott to compare to, cancer was always present in our dynamic, so that seems to make it…. more of a constant? But still, I hate seeing him go through pain and not being able to help. I hate seeing how chemo interrupts his beloved running. I hate worrying that he might die from it. I also have selfish moments of frustration when I realize we can’t plan much of our life out in advance. I feel jealous sometimes of people with a ‘normal’ life who are able to have families and life plans and expect to die of old age.

 

But I counter with asking if I would rather not have entered into this relationship. No, I would never give up meeting Scott, I would never give up meeting his son, I would never give up seeing him dance like David Brent, or watching TV in bed with him, or seeing him progress his running, or all our conversations about a meaningful life.

 

I will say, this cancer thing has put me through a lot of scary shit. I’ve never had a close family member have major surgery of any sort. Watching Scott wheel away to the OR last August was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever experienced, and waiting to hear he made it out of surgery was possibly worse. And I know I have to go through all that again, the waiting, the ICU, seeing him in pain…. But it’s not hard. It’s just what you do when you love someone.

 

Our life is very normal on the day-to-day. Cancer isn’t always rearing its head (though obviously I am speaking from my perspective. Scott’s daily experience with it is completely different needless to say. I try to be as empathetic as possible, but really I have no idea). And we’re incredibly lucky in that respect. I work in a breast cancer research lab and the stories my boss tells me are devastating. Scott’s cancer is slow growing and unlikely to metastasize. Many are not that lucky. So like anything else in life, we handle it day by day. And I know every day I made the right choice. 

 

I might not know what is in store for my future, but to shy away from it is akin to avoid cars because you might be in a car accident. Life is scary and dangerous and full of sadness. But if you try to avoid all of that, you miss all the good, funny and awe-inspiring experiences that make life anything worth living! So I choose to not worry too much about the dying part, life implies death anyways. Its a miracle (of science) that we’re alive on this ridiculous planet in the first place. 

 

*With this being said – I really hope I don’t come off all “this is how his cancer affects me, boo hoo”. Cancer is not my reality, I don’t want to pretend like it is. 

 

**technically it could be cured with surgery but like everything else, it’s all chance and circumstance. 

 

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous February 5, 2015

    Thanks for sharing this, Laura. Very brave of you. My favorite part of your post ” Life is scary and dangerous and full of sadness. But if you try to avoid all of that, you miss all the good, funny and awe-inspiring experiences that make life anything worth living.”

    Like

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