There was a little post that popped up in social media feed. Someone had raised money for breast cancer research by involving some of my pink friends. I read the post. I “liked” the post. I put down the gadget and walked away to the kitchen. My legs felt weak and my hands shook badly as I stacked the coffee mug in the dishwasher. My mind felt dizzy and my chest felt tight. I found a chair to sit down and catch my breath. The trouble was I had seen this coming all along and I could avoid it no more. It is better to come clean.
I have a confession to make. I hate being called a survivor. This word pricks my soul like a sharp pointed needle leaving me wounded with blisters. But, I have always tried to shake it away and let go of the droplets of pain. I put on a grateful smile and gracefully move on like nothing has happened. I act as if I acknowledge this unique belonging to this subset of population I belong to.
But, the pain doesn’t go away. It gnaws my soul like a blunt edge of a rusty knife rubbing against my skin — scrape after scrape. I try to not think about it and ignore it. But, it doesn’t go away. It stays and lurks in the deep insides of myself and resurfaces again the next time, the word is uttered to celebrate my tryst with destiny — my struggle with breast cancer.
Let me tell you a story. Every day, since that horrible phone call that bracketed me in the statistics of women who have had to deal with this dreadful disease, I live in constant terror. For the first time, after the phone call when I was on the table with screens that pronounced my organ functions as ‘normal’, I was acutely aware of what it truly meant. At that moment, for the first time in my life, I understood that ‘normal’ is not a given. While we associate boredom when we watch or experience mechanics, that very thing — normality, has strangely become uniqueness. Miraculous. Naturally, I didn’t feel normal. I felt special instead.
Aren’t we all surviving?
Breast cancer is no mean thing. I struggle with the after effects to this day. My close friends know my fears, my crazy ideas, my sentiments, my lucky charms — everything. However, come October, most people I know draw out lenses — cancer lenses and view me through their fancy mirrors and put down my name under a group of people called — Survivors. That minute, the world around me swims in alarming speed and whispers agonisingly the details, the near misses, the possibilities of things that could go wrong. It is at that precise moment I always wonder — Aren’t we all surviving? Am I the only one to survive?
The road hump to my way of life had me stumble a bit. I fell down, I was hurt, I cried, I dusted myself, I got up and got on with my life. While I like all the cheers that come with it, I don’t want to be celebrated for what I do after I have got up. I am cautious of road humps. I don’t stop living. I don’t make my coffee any differently now than I used to before. So, how does that make my coffee special? I don’t like to be celebrated for my tryst with the road hump. That is part of me. It is not the only me.
I am not a survivor. No. I am a hundred different things and I have made peace with the part of my life that has also become an integral part of my being. I am neither a warrior nor a hero. I am just me — someone who also bumped into a road hump.
Sudha Subramanian is an independent journalist based in Dubai.