I was driving into work yesterday. On NPR, Fresh Air was replaying an interview with David Rackoff. David was a contributor on This American Life. He died of cancer the other day. In the interview he talked about having cancer and what it meant to him. It was a very thoughtful interview that I recommend to anybody.
The thing that really caught my attention was a discussion about who he was. They were discussing the possible loss of his arm due to chemo and this is what he had to say.
“Well, here’s the thing: I’m not beautiful. I mean, I’m a perfectly normal-looking Jewish guy. My face has never been my fortune, nor has my body … physical beauty has never been part of my equation. It’s just not on my shopping list. With the arm, I’m not talking about beauty so much as I’m actually talking about symmetry … it’s the lack of the shoulder that I was fixated on and remain a tiny bit fixated on.”
” … I’m fortunate in that I am 46 years old, and I do have a nifty little career so that the comma, noun after my name is David Rakoff comma writer. I’m very fortunate in that that’s kind of established, so even if I do lose my arm … I have managed to establish an identity that is based on my internal self, and for that I feel tremendously lucky.”
It made me think of my comma noun. What is it? I know I don’t want it to be Michael Cassera comma Cancer Survivor. I don’t want cancer to define who I am. My friend gave me the best compliment a few weeks ago. We were discussing something that was bothering him and I told him he shouldn’t let things get to him. He asked me how I manage to let things go. I started to tell him that after I was diagnosed with cancer most things didn’t bother me much at all. My priorities had changed significantly and things that really bothered me in the past were no longer a big deal. He replied that he had pretty much forgotten that I had cancer, that I was just “Mike”
To me, that was the best compliment to hear. To go through 2 years of treatment and stress and to come out on the other side in a state that people don’t see the illness is a great feeling.
It’s hard not to see the cancer I had every day. I see it in the mirror when I take my shirt off, I feel it (or not) in my hands and feet with the peripheral neuropathy from the chemo. But now looking back, it was just a speed bump. Something to remember, but not something to consume me.