The only dead body I’ve ever seen that shouldn’t have been dead was in a snow covered alley in Lewiston, Maine. I was covering a story 15 years ago about a man who’d been drinking who got into a fight with a man who’d been drinking, and one of them punched the other one and left him in the street overnight. The first man died of exposure.
The next day I got sent to cover the story and let me tell you I didn’t want to go. Some reporter I was–half the time I wanted to help the people I was sent to get the interview from. The other half of the time I was wishing I’d called in sick–because murders, assaults, arsons–all of that made me sad. But the absolute worst– the sight of a dead man, or woman, or animal for that matter–made me ill. If I could have squeezed my eyes shut and stuck my fingers in my ears singing la-la-la-la-la-la until the whole thing was over, I would have. But it was my job to stay there and cover the story.
So I did it.
The only other dead bodies I’ve seen have been at wakes. I understand the religious purpose behind that and it makes many feel good to see and say good-bye to someone they love, but the first dead man I saw was my grandfather and I was 8 and I was petrified. He looked strange and not human, deflated and flat lying there in the funeral parlor–and at one point my elementary school imagination kicked in and I swore he moved in the casket. I was freaked that he’d sit up and yawn. I didn’t sleep for days after that.
So I was reading a few of these anti-cancer books I’ve bought recently to help me get a grip on what other things I can do about this recurrence I’m in, when I got to a part I hadn’t read before. It said something like “and they were twice as likely to reach the 5 year marker as those not doing” blah blah blah. It wasn’t the thing they were eating that I focused on: it was the time frame. 5 years? That’s all?
Is that what “they” say I have left?
I know anything can happen. I know I don’t have to be a statistic. I know I can survive this with a lot of information, education, hope, faith, medicine and family/friends. I know that.
But let me say that in addition to all of those wonderful reasons I plan to not be just a “twice as likely to reach” cancer survivor is the fact that I do not plan to be lying, sitting, standing or yawning in any casket any time soon. Look, I’ve seen my share of dead bodies. I’ve seen them frozen solid and I’ve seen them flat and lifeless and that’s not going to be me. I have way too much more life to live for that.
So the next time I hear or read some time-ticking statistics about my “chances” of making it through this, I’ll be the one with my eyes squeezed shut, fingers in my ears, humming la-la-la-la-la-la. Because regardless of the scary statistics and the breast cancer fear in my life, it’s now my new job to hang in there and stay alive.
And I will do it.