I’ve been reflecting a lot on a powerful quote from author Susan Sontag. It may be familiar to some, but it’s especially fitting as someone who’s going through a cancer diagnosis (as she was when she penned it):
Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.Susan Sontag, from Illness as a Metaphor
Will I get back home?
There comes a point in a person’s journey where they either get to return home to the land of the well (or some version of it), or they’ve had their citizenship to that domain revoked and will forever wander about the land of the sick.
While I’m being treated with curative intent, I have high hopes that my time in the land of the sick is finite, bounded by the final milestone of completing my planned chemotherapy.
This is actually a great source of guilt: that I may have the opportunity to overcome the disease, while others will not. It’s one of the emotions that doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to watch others suffer even if I find myself suffering, too. I should feel grateful at the chance for a cure, but it’s hard to have gratitude towards such a terrifying disease.
Through participating in different peer groups and social media, I’ve made a lot of friends in cancerland. Many of these friends have incurable, metastatic disease and will spend their remaining days primarily in the land of the sick. The best they can hope for is to live a long time, coexisting with a disease that’s constantly fighting back against whatever concoction of maintenance therapy is being thrown at it.
Some will reach a stage in their treatment where there is no evidence of disease (what used to be called remission). They’ll hang out in limbo, now tourists in the land of the well, while still undergoing harsh treatments to keep the cancer at bay.
Others won’t even be so fortunate to return home temporarily. Forgotten, out of reach, and lost to the falling sands of a broken hourglass, the land of the well becomes a fading memory as the viciousness of cancer ravages the body and mind. Sometimes, cancer’s grip is already so tight that it can’t be broken.
It leaves me wondering if my friends and I will make it back home someday.