Have you heard of FitBit? I hadn’t until recently, shortly before I got one for Christmas. It’s a super-pedometer, essentially; it tracks your steps, activity, calories, sleep. If I walk five miles and 10,000 steps in a day, a very approving smiley face shows up in the display. I love that smiley face so much. I live for that smiley face.
It’s a good gift because it plays to what motivates me (carrot always beats stick) and, ever since I got my strength back post-chemo, I’ve been trying to whip my body into shape. I joined a gym, I got more selective with my diet, I tried to do weights and cardio everyday. I cut cream from my coffee and stopped dipping Oreos into Jif. (R.I.P.) Part of that was to eliminate the 25 pounds of unwanted chemo weight, but there was also a more basic, psychological need. I wanted the control.
When your body delivers an unwelcome surprise, like cancer, it’s easy to feel betrayed. And the only way I knew how to exert dominion over this mess of cells was to live as healthfully as I could. Turn your body into a machine and it’ll always be predictable and submissive! Your body tried to rebel; now show it who’s boss! It’s such a common response to trauma that it’s a cliche at this point. And, of course, a total lie.
I’ll continue to embrace good diet and exercise for the rest of my life, but I understand that true control is a facade. (Don’t tell Gwyneth Paltrow.) Healthy choices may indeed help prevent cancer, but it certainly doesn’t offer immunity. I’ve seen how messy and random it can be, how casually it can strike. And being healthy now can’t undo the suffering of my past. Cancer isn’t a punishment, a curse, or a consequence. It’s never deserved and it’s nothing to atone for. It’s just a disease.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of my final chemotherapy session and I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal timeline. Chemo can feel like it ended years ago or days ago. It’s like a co-worker you got to know well who abruptly moved away; the basic elements of your life are the same but the personal fabric of your day is intrinsically altered. I never want to see the co-worker again, but I’m also grateful for how he let me see the world.
We get to control very little in life. Get a good sense of what’s in your purview and plan accordingly. Make good choices. For everything else, try to find the freedom that hides in powerlessness.
Every run I take, with the wind on my face or The View on the gym TV, isn’t a step away from cancer. It’s a step after cancer, a gratifying victory lap. And 10,000 of them earn me a smiley face which, worthless as it may be, feels like a monumental reward.