On cancer.

Dear Coquette,

I’m 23 and I just found out that I have a tumor in my brain. The oncologist said it was inoperable and that with treatment, I have about 15-24 months; without treatment, who knows.

I haven’t told anyone this yet, but I am going to, and while I’m willing to go see any and every doctor, if they all say the same thing as my initial oncologist, I’m not going to spend the last months of my life going through all the hell of chemotherapy and radiation. How do I tell that to my family and friends, when I know all they will want is for me to fight this for as long as possible? Tell me straight, am I being selfish or cowardly for not wanting to fight a losing battle?

If you’re refusing treatment out of fear without consideration for your friends and family, then yes, you are being both selfish and cowardly. The selfish part is perfectly understandable. You’re entitled to some selfishness when facing your own mortality. However, the cowardly part is unacceptable.

Of course you don’t want to fight a losing battle. Who would? Nobody wants to suffer, but I’ve got more bad news for you. Suffering is inevitable. Your mind and body are going to deteriorate. There’s a part of you that understands that, but you’re still smack dab in middle of the denial phase, and you’re focusing too much on the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

No doubt the doctors are telling you to start treatment immediately. You’re thinking that you’ve got the holidays coming up, and if they’re going to be your last, you’d rather not spend them puking your guts out.

Right now you’re weighing the pros and cons of blowing it out for six to nine months verses hunkering down and weathering treatment for a couple of years. Thing is, that’s a false dichotomy. This isn’t an either/or kind of situation. This is all gray area and dark, sticky unknowns.

One thing I can promise you is that eventually you will seek some form of treatment for your disease, and chemotherapy and radiation are your first best options. They’re scary, but you don’t get to walk away from them without first understanding the consequences. Don’t just talk to doctors. Talk to other cancer patients, too. They’re the ones who really know.

Nobody wants to fight a losing battle, but guess what? Life is a losing battle for every last one of us. Sure, you’ve taken a big hit, but you don’t get to quit just yet. It’s too early for that kind of decision.


2 thoughts on “On cancer.

  1. Nastasya Filippovna says:

    This is my question. I asked you to give me permission to die. I asked you to call me selfish so that at least I wouldn’t have to admit that I wanted to be a coward. You called me both. That was 2011.

    It is 2017. When I told my family, when I told my friends, when I went to treatment, when I wanted to kill myself, when I wanted to stop going treatment, when I made it to the finale of Breaking Bad, when I wished I would just die… I remembered you and I hated you every time I thought of you. I fought you everyday. I hated you so much.

    I was dry heaving in the kitchen sink when I swore revenge. I would choke on my own blood but I would not be a coward, because fuck you. I might still be selfish but I wanted this day to come. I swore that I would be alive to tell you that I have hated you more than I have hated anyone. Thank you for being my enemy.

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