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New tools versus doom

I keep buying memoirs.

Reading the story of others with cancer.

I relate to them fully; they make me laugh in recognition—and cry, tears streaming down my face. I’ve found its easier to cry for someone else’s bad luck than my own.

The recurrence has been hard, and it keeps feeling harder.

I try to process it, turning it over and over in my head—why did this have to happen? As if by processing it, understanding it, maybe I will be able to control it.

It doesn’t work.

I am angry, so angry. I don’t know why, which inevitably means I take it out on the people I love. Maybe I would be less frustrated if they were more thoughtful, more clean, less immature, less upset I made salad again—if they didn’t laugh when I felt like crying and get upset when I was finally enjoying dinner.

It’s not fair.

I can feel the ridiculousness before I reach the end of this sentence. And yet I feel it anyway, clenching my fists like a child. It’s not fair!

My therapist wants to talk about my anger, and I flail around trying to explain it.

Fuck cancer, says everybody.

I understand the hopelessness that prompts this sentiment, but I have never really felt that way. I never saw myself as a cancer warrior who kicks cancer’s ass, no matter how many cards encouraged me to do so. In part because—if you don’t, are you a loser?

The recurrence makes me feel like one.

When I decided to keep working, I told myself that I would probably stop if I had a recurrence. Now that I’m here, it doesn’t feel like the right decision.

Again and again, I tell Per, “I’m REALLY not happy to be back in treatment—but I don’t feel

doomed. I’ve never felt doomed.”

Which makes the recurrence feel like maybe I was wrong. Is that why I’m so angry? Am I embarrassed to have been mistaken? My optimism has slipped; I don’t feel like myself, and it’s scary.

My therapist shares an overview of a book she’s read that reminds her of my journey. The author describes two halves of a life—the first half focused on building your identity and the tools you need to navigate it, and the second half which begins at a turning point—the point at which you realize your first-half tools haven’t been honed to handle your second-half life.

“You got through your first experience with cancer so easily. Maybe that’s because you were able to use all your tools to deal with it. But this relapse is forcing you to develop new ways to look at this situation, new tools to cope and make your way through it.”

Now this makes sense to me: I’m angry because my tools worked the first time, and they aren’t working now! This, finally, sounds like me.

“I just need new tools,” I conclude with some measure of relief.

We talk a bit more, about wisdom versus medicine. And while I felt like I had clarity in the moment, when I try to recount the session to Per, I stumble.

I guess those new tools are still bumbling through their adolescence.

And so I’m bumbling along, too. Dreading having to restart Vectibix with tomorrow’s chemo; but feeling a little more peaceful than I did a few days ago.

Whatever happens, I’m not doomed.

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