Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Identifying With Your Cancer

In posting experiences to the Psiplex Blog, I often mention for new readers that I am battling and surviving head and neck cancer. I am, in some fashion apprising others of a condition. But is that all there is to it, or is there more? In speaking with other cancer survivors as well as responding on forums like CancerCompass and Caring4Cancer I see a lot of patients/survivors phrase their experience by saying: 'my breast cancer', 'my throat cancer', or 'my cancer journey'. What does this really mean? Are these folks and myself identifying with cancer as to say I and my cancer are one and the same'? In a way, we, as human beings often need to associate with something bigger than ourselves. This depends on what stage of life and maturity you are in at the moment, but it is a fact. For example, we can associate the work we do to earn an income with the larger organization we work with. If I make my living as a residential realtor, I may identify myself with the parent company who makes hundreds of millions of dollars per year. I may associate my self with a larger organized entity in my beliefs, vocation and personal interests. I may not see myself as a single lonely web developer, but as a part of a larger web developer community that is well respected. It seems to be a hallmark of our nature and our egos to be a part of something bigger and perhaps more 'meaningful'. Hey, I'm a card-carrying member of [insert your organization here], my friend. These days, I am trying to be careful not to equate my identity with my cancer battle and survivorship. The part of me creating music and graphics is not my cancer, so I have clarity to separate the effect from the cause.

What aspect of your cancer journey are you really linked to? Has the ordeal itself somehow become you? With cancer or any other life threatening illness, is this mentally and spiritually healthy? From my personal viewpoint, this is not a good way to go and here's why: I do not believe my illness or my physical condition is the essential 'me'. Huh? I do not believe the pattern of cells making up my physical human form is my energy, that is, my life energy. May sound a bit like new age spew, but think about it, the state of your physical form at 18, 29, 45, 60, 80 is not the same. The 'me' you are in at this moment as you read this will change fundamentally in 20 years. Are you still 'me'? A part of you will be, a part of you will not be. Your container, your beautifully fit, tanned, well groomed and well cared for outer 'me' at the peak of your physicality will not be nearly the same at age 77. No kiddin'. Neither will your much vaunted (and maybe over-valued) brain. Are either of these cell-based entities the real you? I freaking hope not. Well, neither is your cancer or life threatening disease, or the mole on your chin. They just aren't you! The thoughts, beliefs and emotions you schlep around with each day contribute to your identity you have of your 'me' and your view of what others say about the you they believe is you adds to this 'me'.

Conformist, no-conformist, corporate rock star, geek girl optima, mad hatter or button-down cubicle droid, our portable exterior 'me' chunks are only the external manifestations of what we and others bolt on to it. The portable exterior 'me' can be influenced by your perception and what you allow others to bolt on. It takes another kind of journey to find out this is not so. Are you identifying with your cancer or are you going further in your inward journey to discover the 'ah-ha' moment?

Set your ego aside and let me know what you come up with. I'll set mine aside to humbly and quietly listen.

One Love

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