For those who have been reading since the beginning my slight obsession with the idea that cancer is a verb and not a noun, hence my use of the word cancering, is very familiar. For those of you who have only recently happened upon my blog – my word choice might seem a bit peculiar. Sort of a persistent typo-tick. Or perhaps you have simply not noticed.
I know from looking at my stats that folks are not flocking to the Cancering page, nor looking on my Pooka Glossary all that much. Nor is it common to start at the beginning of my story and read through. So curiosity is not keeping people up late at night wondering what I mean when I use the word cancering. Blogging is by and large about the present moment, the focus is on what has just been published, with a few stray birds flicking about over past writings now and again. The good news about this, is that everyday is a new day, with a new opportunity to bring forth my ideas in a refreshing way.
I am finding that the discipline I use to reframe what I read and what I write to be in alignment with the verb vs noun idea is still useful. It seems in fact so revolutionary an idea that I am sort of shocked that more people are not on board. The TED talk that turned me on to this verb thing has had 400,560 viewings as of this post. How the other 400,559 viewers are not making radical changes to their vocabulary is surprising to me. Not to mention all the theoretically brilliant and influential audience members who listened live when Physicist Danny Hillis gave his presentation back in 2010.
So here is another bid to help start a wide scale metamorphosis in the language around cancer. I know that my readership is small – but together we might just be the match that sets this mountaintop beacon on fire.
Hearing the phrase, “You have Cancer” is the unwelcome intro to a radical life detour. It introduces a Boogieman of epic proportions. We enter into our very own horror flick. Cancer is that Thing in the basement we can not ignore. Even though we know it has killed others, even people we loved, we can not stay away. We reach for an arsenal of weapons to fight it, open the door and descend into the darkness.
The words we hear about our bodies have the power to effect our physiology. Especially when spoken by people in authority – like our doctor. The word CANCER has dread imbedded within it. Immediately our minds begin to play out what it means, and often this is with images of a horrible slow painful death. A death that happens only after we have been horribly disfigured and rendered either skeletal thin, or bloated like a dead sea lion on the beach. Our bodies take in these images and set about making them true. This is the Nocebo effect.
The battle of cancer is in large part a mind game to overcome the unavoidable consequences of being consumed by the inner monster. We hope and vow that we will be like David and take down our Goliath, without really believing that we can do it. We KNOW we are in the belly of the beast, that we have inadvertently made a deal with the devil – and that even if we fight it back – eventually it will return dragging us into hell.
This is Cancer as Noun. Being consumed by our worst fears, alternating with fighting “It” off as best we can. And we struggle to do this while maintaining a cheerful disposition. The ever helpful “right attitude.”
I think there is another way to embody this experience. And it lies in looking at what is happening within our body as a process. Because Cancering is a cellular process. Our cells are singing to each other all the time.* This harmony reminds cells how to contribute to the greater whole which is our body. When communication breaks down and the cancering process starts up, our amazing body sends in active immune system cells to calm the disruption, and shut down the cancering cells. The dysfunctional cells are recycled by the body and the harmonious song continues. This sort of thing happens all the time. Probably while I was writing this sentence you may have started cancering, and then stopped. Easy as that.
If we are stressed, or our body is busy processing toxins, sometimes it happens that a few stem cells which have lost connection to the song, are not brought back into balance. The contributing factors for cancering are vast and complex. These broken cells basically forget how to share. They usually also forget to rest, and they forget to die. Strangely they become invisible to our immune system. Then these stem cells produce many many daughter cells – which create tumors, and eventually tiny tumor seeds, called micro-metastasis, which may set up camp in new locations around the body. Because these cells are not working in harmony with the other trillions of cells that make up your body, these cancering cells may eventually cause disruption on a grand enough scale that you die.
The trouble is once the cells really get rolling, and there are tumors large enough to detect with Western medical imaging there needs to be some sort of intervention. Think about those runaway truck ramps on mountain passes – after your cancering cells have gained enough momentum there needs to be a radical intervention, not just a tap on the brakes. Finding the right synergistic combination that will address your specific situation may take some work, but it is completely possible for you to simply stop cancering.
Because we know from thousands of documented case studies that the human body can spontaneously heal from even late stage, i.e. metastatic cancering, we know that it is possible. The key to reintegrating the cancering cells is to help them remember, how to share, rest and most importantly how to die. There are many tools to help your body to do that. It is a process. A verb. You can stop.
Think about someone diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Their body is no longer doing a good job of regulating blood sugar. We take it for granted that with interventions in the form of diet changes, exercise, and mindfulness, many folks can successfully move back into a more harmonious regulated state with their blood sugar levels.
Back when I was diagnosed, thinking of what was going on within my body as a process, rather than the scary monster in the basement supported me in being calmer, and happier. I didn’t need to fiercely use my willpower to maintain a “good attitude” because I was actually really authentically hopeful that the team we assembled was going to successfully send a message to those cancering cells, and that they would turn off their cloaking device and remember how to die.
Because I was writing about it at the time, it actually created a lot of conversation within the ranks of my community. Having my team of people thinking of what was happening as a verb was really helpful, and was an added level of support. Together we were redefining what was possible for me. I think it really helped people to get past their fears to hold a vision of me healing.
If we think of cancer as a verb, then it opens up a huge vista of options for helping our body to regulate itself. The body is amazing at self regulating its systems, and we can ask for help from healers and doctors to be part of our team to support us in doing so.
I suspect that even if someone is dealing with metastatic disease, it may be helpful to recognize their cancering as a process, rather than as a noun. It may alleviate some fear, and provide some new ways to address that experience. Truthfully I can not speak for anyone else, and definitely do not presume to know what it is like to be facing stage four disease, I can only say that for me switching over has been very very helpful to my spirits, and profoundly effected what treatment choices I made for my stage 3C disease.
Now that I am in the post treatment no mans land, my work is to maintain harmony within my body as best I can. I am still very motivated to make my body as incompatible with cancering as possible. Much as someone might choose not to eat ice-cream if they have been diagnosed with Diabetes, I need to choose healthy options for every part of my life; emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. Sometimes it seems like a daunting job, but since I have already had to use the emergency ramp once, I hope to keep my brakes tuned up as best I can from here on out. Because I want to keep dancing and singing and writing and picking berries, and well basically living, which by the way is another verb.
*By singing I mean communicating with biosignaling. look to the cancering page for another TED talk about that.
**The dinosaur pictures are from a Joe / boys photoshoot back in 2010.