Words That Don’t Define Me

Over the years I’ve read a lot of news stories about people with cancer.  I’ve been interested in the adjectives used to describe them.  How we describe people often tells us more about ourselves than the person we’re describing.  When I describe a person as ‘brave’ it is often me projecting my wish of how I’d behave if I were them.

A combat veteran once told me, “It’s a very thin line between brave and foolish.  Often it’s just the difference between living and dying.”

If I was on a battle field I’d certainly wish that I’d act out of bravery rather than foolishness.  The brave soldier acts with valor and lives while the foolish soldier needlessly throw his life away.  At my funeral I’d rather be known as the brave soldier.

Here are some of the words and phases that I see written about people with cancer:

lost their battle
is cancer free
fighting the battle against
great faith
very loving
great sense of humor.

These words come from the often repeated stereotypes I see describing ‘cancer victims.’ I sometimes wonder if a reporter from a magazine came to write a story about me and my prostate cancer what would be written.  I am sure it would include sentences like this:

  • Andrew is a software engineer who has bravely fought this cancer while continuing to work and support his family.
  • He has great sense of humor that eased the pain and suffering of the disease that is ravaging his body.
  • Using both his faith in God and modern medicine he constantly overcomes adversity and is looking forward to being declared cancer free when he finishes his current treatments.

The only problem would be that I am not any of those things.

Brave I am not.  What I am is afraid.  I am more motivated by fear than anything else.  Fear of death, fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of growing a third arm. Okay I am also a bit irrational from time to time.  A few days after I got the call I woke up at about 3:00 am with this thought, “How will I know when I am dead?”

Well now, isn’t that good-morbid-over-reacting?  The fact is that I am not facing death anytime soon.  This isn’t that kind of disease.  In fact most prostate cancers are perfectly treatable.  We could argue the curable part, but I far more likely to be killed crossing the street.  To say that I am “bravely fighting” cancer is an overstatement in the extreme (is that redundant?).

A fighter?  Yeah right. Last time I got in a fight, I was the one with the bloody nose.

Survivor? Only in the sense that nothing really bad has happened to me.

Cancer Free? Hopefully in body but my mind has been touched by the word and my spirit be forever affected by that word.

Sense of humor? Maybe but mostly I have a very good memory and can remember almost every joke ever told to me.  Also humor is a great shield.  When someone gets too close to the truth – tell a joke, divert attention from me to a laugh.

Faith? Well I’ve got some but my patron saint is Thomas – doubting Thomas.  Yes I have faith and beliefs.  I pray.  I mediate.  I think.  I read the ancient wisdom and try my best to behave as I believe Jesus would want me to.  But still I wake at 3:00 am and wonder, “How will I know I am dead?”

So what words describe me?

An engineer
Doing what I must
Mostly a Believer

So what am I?

I am just a middle-aged-church-going-engineer who got a disease and am trying to squeeze out a few more years by using the treatments that medicine can offer while keeping my mind and spirit healthy by using my faith and relying on the support of my church, my friends and most importantly my dear wife.

and I write these blog posts, watch bad “B” movies and tell bad jokes to avoid thinking about all this too much.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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3 Responses to Words That Don’t Define Me

  1. Pingback: Words That Don’t Define Me « YAPCaB

  2. YAPCaB says:

    Amazing list! Fits me perfectly as well (I’m an EE). The thing I most didn’t want to happen was to become “the guy with cancer”. I wasn’t going to let cancer define me. And I did a damn fine job of that up until it metasticised. Because the timelines are now so much shorter, I literally feel the cancer is a significant part of me. It’s something I have to coexist with as long as i can. I call it “my” cancer and talk about it freely with anyone who asks. (or doesn’t as you can see from my posts). Oddly enough I feel more free from my cancer treating it this way.


    • Andrew says:

      Glad you like the list. The hardest part is balance – sometimes we are one thing and other times something else. At work I am the grey beard telling stories of the old days but I am the youngest man in the men’s group at church. I love to hear the stories of the ‘old timers.’

      Often I just address cancer as simple possession, something like, “I got a car, house, table saw and prostate cancer. What do you have?” I try to keep it in perspective as some days the cancer is a factor but other days I have give it all my attention.

      Thanks for your comment.


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