Sunday morning. I’m wearing a bright orange shirt and I am astride a Schwinn indoor cycling bike, surrounded by seventy other people on bikes too, randos jumping around with orange pom-poms, the music bumpin’. I focus on my ride and my heart rate which tops out at 168 BPM many times. I only get thirty minutes on the bike and I want to make the best of it. One of the instructors is yelling about how we are alive, we are still breathing and let’s imagine a world with no cancer. I feel irrationally angry at him, so I ignore him, pushing on those pedals as hard as I can.
For a number of years, I declined to participate in this event, but this year I thought I would give it a try. I just cannot get into the celebration. That’s what it is, of course, a celebration of life and survivorship that raises money for cancer research. What kind of person feels anger at an event like this? Feels that it is torture? Me, me , me. I cannot celebrate. Sometimes I feel as if I am no closer to getting over this than I was the day I was diagnosed.
I have always had trouble calling myself a survivor. I feel like a phony, a pretender who had a cancer that is not legitimate. But yet I am lumped in with people who had legitimate, real cancer. My treatment period was so short; it consisted of a series of one-shot deals: surgery, then radiation. Done. Presto. Go back to whatever it was you were doing before (an actual quote from Dr. Overinvolved). Really. Now that I know nowhere and no one is safe? Sure, no problem.
I do not feel honored or supported by the other participants. I feel alone because they are so happy and celebratory. I cannot get to the other side of my cancer experience, to the side where I can celebrate. My still being here is not a good enough reason to shake my orange pom-pom.