When it comes to cancer metaphors, I know that the most common one is a fight, with words like: survivor, battle, losing, winning…. This is often the casing for describing one’s cancer experience, but I’m not a big fan of battle metaphors—I don’t like thinking of my life in such an on-going conflict, even if it’s just a metaphor, and even if it is cancer, it still represents an attitude.
Aside from my crazy eda-mommy ways, I love words, language and metaphors. I love playing with words and appreciating how others play with words. Last summer we put Lorde’s Royals on our road trip playlist, and had plenty of miles to mull over the lyrics. Some lyrics I still haven’t figured out, but one of my favorite images is a tiger on a gold leash. It’s very opulent and obnoxious to own a pet tiger. Tigers are large, dangerous and unpredictably wild cats, and it seems insane to imagine that a leash, even a gold one, could contain such a beast.
Because my experience with cancer has been chronic, I don’t consider myself on the frontlines of fighting cancer—I know other people have had vastly different experiences than I have, and they truly are victorious in their battles, or fight to be. My cancer has been more of a journey—with lots of ups and downs and twists and turns, but I’ve walked with that metaphor for too long. The journey doesn’t quite capture the risk and expense involved in my experience.
So, I’ve decided to try out my new metaphor—that dealing with chronic leukemia for 14 years is like having a pet tiger. It’s generally contained, it causes a stir in public, it’s always with me, and it becomes the norm after awhile. But, the very existence of a leashed tiger reminds everyone around of the potentially wild power that could un-leash at any moment. This is cancer for me. I take my gold pill, Gleevec, every morning, like throwing a slab of raw meat at my pet tiger. Most of the time we are both content and continue through life. But every once in awhile the beast acts out just enough to give me, and the people around me, a scare. It’s dangerous and it’s not going away, but it’s generally under control. I know that eventually every metaphor breaks down, and I enjoy figuring out how far I can take a metaphor before its breaking point. The obvious difference between my metaphor and a tiger on a gold leash, is that I didn’t choose to have a pet tiger, but over the years I’ve chosen to own it. Not that it defines me, but it has shaped me and if it does go with me everywhere, I might as well own it.
I’m rarely one of those people who walks out of a movie theatre to take an important call, but when my hem/onc. doctor’s name came up twice on my phone, I left my family in the post-Christmas holiday movie and skipped out on the finale of Night at the Museum 3. I rushed out of the theatre talking in hushed tones. It was an “owning my tiger” moment. The nurse began rattling off dates…one for a cytogenetic blood test, one for a bone marrow biopsy, one for a consultation, one for a follow up to figure out what it all means…RRRRRR… Can’t we just toss an extra slab of meat at my beast and calm it down? This is going to be my new part time job for all of January, and maybe beyond. Not what I had planned! It could be the news everyone dreads and expects from having a pet tiger—that eventually it will lash out in its wild nature. On the other hand, it could just require a change in medication, and then we continue to unpredictably and delicately coexist.
Another song on our summer playlist was Katy Perry’s Roar. My favorite memory from our 24+ hours in the car was listening to my 7-year-old’s raspy little voice belting out with headphones on, “I’ve got the eye of the tiger… cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roa-r-r-r-r”. Maybe I have my metaphor backwards. Maybe I’m the fierce, uncontainable one in my metaphor and cancer never knows when or how I’m going to unleash my determination, and my naps, and my faith, and my morning smoothies with chia seeds on it! I must have some fight in me after all. RRRRRRRR!