In our Cancer Semantics episode, we talked about how neither I nor Mimi like the terms to identify ourselves as it relates to cancer. I don't feel like I'm able to fight, much less embody a proud warrior. I don't want to be a cancer patient, patient as the cancer works through my body and the doctors try to get rid of it. Many people find permanence and strength in being a survivor, but for me, that is the lowest bar of achievement: I am still existing. Thriver is a little better, but I am not always thriving. Often I am exhausted and sad and angry and broken and suffering. None of the existing terms resonates with me, so I don't call myself anything.
But not identifying yourself cuts you off in some ways from both the cancer community and a huge part of your life and your self. I am indelibly changed by what I've been through. I wear the marks on my skin and inside my poor battered soul. I carry this experience with me, and see everything with new eyes. I mourn the loss of my past self as I struggle to know my new self.
Then on Twitter, I saw Helen Sparkles identify not as a fighter, but as the battleground. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. My "fight" with cancer has really been marked by passivity. I don't administer my chemo: I sit and accept while the chemo runs through me. I don't cut out my tumor: I lay unconscious as my breast surgeon pares the diseased tissue away. I don't radiate: I keep still while the radiation machine rotates slowly around me. Cancer side effects slow me down (fatigue) or keep me immobile (activity restrictions). All this to say that I didn't see a lot of active "fighting" in my cancer treatment.
But I do identify with the passivity of the battleground. I cannot fight for or against, but I am there for every shot fired. I feel every trench dug, every bleeding soldier. There is no escaping for the battlefield: there is watching and waiting and hoping. There is no volition for the battlefield: even if I wanted to pick up a musket, I don't know how I'd hold it. So I exist, knowing that this war is necessary, that I didn't cause this, I couldn't prevent it. I wait for the fighting to stop.
The best thing a battleground can become is a sacred space. The revolutionary battlefield at Concord, Massachusetts is an expansive park, where people can learn about the past, see the beauty of the river, and imagine a better future. We better ourselves when we recognize the baptism of battle. We grow when we move beyond "cause" and "affect" and build something better out of experiences. We advance when we can learn compassion and humility and love from the unavoidable life-tax of some terrible. The places that see horror carry that memory, but the best ones carry the remembrance of both what was lost and why we fought. The best ones are sacred, peaceful spaces that teach and heal.
I am the battleground.