I was in the shower listening to NPR when they announced his death. And I cried.
I didn't know David Rakoff personally, but I did feel like I "knew" him through his writing (he's the author of 3 books and a 4th that will be published posthumously). I also knew him through his radio pieces for This American Life--most recently a bit he did playing Dr Seuss.
I admired his writing and his radio essays, but I cried because I was scared.
I had written previously about cancer making you selfish--or rather, making me selfish. I think this is sort've natural. I also don't want to paint myself into being a terrible monster. I am genuinely sad about Rakoff's passing. Just as I was genuinely sad when Elizabeth Edwards passed away a year and a half ago. Just as I was and still am genuinely sad over the death of my favorite aunt from leukemia.
But I am also scared. Not in a way where I am paralyzed or I think about my mortality constantly. But I definitely know that hearing about David Rakoff's cancer coming back a second time and then hearing the news about his death makes me feel scared. It makes me wonder if that's going to happen to me.
My fear doesn't last very long--enough to cry in the shower mourning David Rakoff and feeling anxious about my future. And then I dry myself off and go about my day.
But I wanted to write about fear because I think it's something we have a hard time acknowledging--those of us who have a cancer diagnosis or who have a loved one with a cancer diagnosis.
And recently I was reminded about the need we have to keep positive while reading this piece in the New York Times, part of their "Life, Interrupted" series which chronicles the thoughts and feeling of Suleika Jaouad.
Quoting Barbara Ehrenreich's critique of the bright-siding of cancer, Jaouad, after admitting that she has tried to keep a positive attitude towards everything she has been dealing with related to her cancer, writes:
At what point is positivity a form of denial? Does positivity at all costs have a cost? I’m not a negative person, and I’m certainly not trying to set up a school for negative thinking, but today I’m giving myself permission to step out of the spin zone of positivity — to stare down fear, anxiety and dread without the guilt that I might be giving up or not fighting hard enough.And reading her essay reminded me of what I had forgotten because I am no longer living with it on a daily basis: Cancer is hard. It's not about being positive or negative. It's about cancer being a difficult disease to navigate. And it's difficult on so many levels--because chemotherapy is horrible and the side effects can be crippling. But most of all, because it's scary. It's scary to think that you are putting your body through all of these treatments--of getting poked and prodded and having parts of yourself cut open and cut off. And we do this because we want to have the best outcome possible--we want the cancer to go away, and we want to live.
So it's sad and scary to hear about people who did all these things, like David Rakoff, and who, none-the-less, dies from cancer related complications.
Not a cherry post, I know. But I think it's OK to admit that I'm scared. Just a little bit. I think it's important, in fact, to acknowledge that I went through something horribly difficult and life altering. And that the scars that I wear are not simply on my chest.