Cancer

CN: depression, cancer

A long time ago, maybe a couple years at this point, I stumbled on a post about a photographer who took pictures of his wife throughout her struggle with breast cancer. I’m honestly surprised that I didn’t write about it at the time, since it affected me strongly, but a search through my old posts tells me I never did.

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This story popped up on my radar at about the same time I was really into comparing mental illnesses to physical illnesses to get people to understand how similar they are. I probably referred to cancer more than any other illness because of its emotional weight.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been the same after seeing that series of photos.

He took a picture of them shaving her head, and of her getting blood drawn, and medicines strewn across a bedspread. A vacation on a sunny beach. Her painting her toes. A kiss from a dog.

And throughout, she gets thinner and sicker.

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And nearing the end of the post, not quite to the part where context tells you she lost the fight, this picture:

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I remember looking at that progression of pictures and getting to this point. I remember how I equivocated cancer with depression in my mind.

And I thought, even if she had beaten the cancer at that point, even if she had lived, she would never have been the same. Inside, or out. Her skin would have always been more wrinkled than a woman her age’s ought to be. She would have carried the emotional scars of her ordeal for the rest of her life.

And then I thought about myself. I thought about the damage my illness is doing to my brain, and how mental illness leaves contusions similar to concussions, dark spots on gray matter.

I wondered if damage like that could ever really be recovered from. It still strikes me cold and leaves me gasping. How much damage before you’ll never, ever be the same? What if I’m already past a point of viable recovery? Especially now, years later.

What if my brain never recovers? What if I’m never, ever truly happy? How long until the pain becomes more than I, with my shockingly high threshold of fortitude, can stand to bear?

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