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On health and happiness

Posted Mar 10 2013 10:12pm

I saw a quote somewhere this week: Ralph Waldo Emerson (or Albert Schweitzer, or Ingrid Bergman, or Audrey Hepburn, depending on where you look) on happiness:

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.

This struck a chord with me because I’ve been thinking a lot about my dance with cancer of late.

Two things have prompted this. The first is my annual check-up, looming into view in the next couple of weeks, and threatening to drop cancer back into my life. The second is some counselling I’ve been having.

The counselling is in connection with something away from the blog, but, given the interconnectedness of all things and all, it’s made me think about cancer again. In particular: the stories we tell ourselves.

I’ve written about this before: I think there’s something very positive about being able to create a narrative about cancer where it isn’t synonymous with Certain Death. When I was ill I created a version of a cancer story that was a dance, not a fight; a story with new perspectives and positive outcomes and the chance for life to be better afterwards. And I think that was a good thing.

But now, almost five years on, I think I’m in danger of creating a new narrative. There’s a story I tell myself about cancer now, in which I cheerfully endured something that was about as bad as a port hangover. In this version, I learned more than I lost, I got a better life; I came off better, way better, a woman leaving a casino with notes stuffed in a suitcase.

There is some truth in that. But there’s also a lot that’s been edited out. The tears, the fear, the pain in bones and bowels and teeth and breast and heart. The worry that me, my family and friends went through; worry that we haven’t all recovered from yet. Cancer was bloody awful, and the fact that I have gained from it doesn’t take the awfulness away.

Because of the nature of this blog – and the nature of cancer – I’m in touch with a lot of people who are dancing with cancer, and I think I need to be more careful about remembering the real story. A bad memory is one thing; doing a disservice to what I went through, what the people I love went through, is quite another.

March 10, 2013
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