"I Was Once a Cancer Patient: Emphasis on Once, You Gnarly Jokester" By Sandra Clark

Written in November of the cruel year of 2020

I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia with a FLT-3 mutation on May 17th, 2019. Approximately 270 days and a stem-cell transplant later, I was declared free from that same cancer. And now, about another 270 some-odd days later, I find that can state these facts out loud. I can state them out loud, but I find I have not been able to internalize my experience in a way that leaves me free from cancer’s shadow. I desperately want those close to me to look upon me strongly, not gingerly or cautiously. Yet, I often gaze upon myself gingerly and cautiously. I want to silence the thoughts of relapse. I want the physical experience of my cancer journey to be pulled from my hip flexors, my facia, my neurons, my blood; to be pulled up – into - and through these words and released with a blessing over the waters into cold, night air.

Cancer, you are a cheater. I am cured now, but you threaten to make my life tenuous and to take away my vitality. You have taken my naiveté, I get it now. I get that life is fleeting and that mine could easily be over. I do concede you that. But I don’t concede much else. You appear as the jokester on my shoulder jumping and turning summersaults and taunting incessantly. You whisper constantly in my ear, “Your survival rate is 60 percent at three years; You tease unrelentingly: one of those years has already passed.” You laugh in your brutally, high-pitched and deranged way. While you are here, each hospital memory, each glance in the mirror is a theft – a theft – a robbery of my today.

But you know what – you quirky little man. Loss is a part of life Leukemia caused loss – plenty of it, but so did leaving my marriage, and my children growing up, and leaving friends in Ashland and Eugene, and my father’s passing. However, these losses were not end points, as you, Jokester, want to make my Leukemia to be. They were not before and then now…and here, you get a little more so better make the most of it. This is how you want to play. That is how cancer wants to play, to be different, craftier than ordinary, necessary life loss. This is how you are a cheater. But, it turns out that my cancer is not a puzzle piece that is fixed and destined to fit in only one spot. It’s not that kind of puzzle. It’s more one piece in a pattern block puzzle – those puzzles that have various squares and triangles that can be laid out to make dinosaurs or flowers. Designs and arrangements enhanced by creativity and imagination. In the same way, the events of my life joyful and challenging can be laid out, too, and arranged and rearranged as I see fit and to my liking. No, the Jokester is wrong in his underlying assumption and by this flaw, he is diminished.

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