Saturday, September 13, 2014

Real Life

Sometimes I find it hard to tell the difference between real life and fiction. This is probably due in no small part to growing up obsessed with books, stories, and plays. I tend to see life through the lens of a story: what is that character's arc? Where is the surprising twist? The "all is lost" moment? I have always been particularly drawn to stories of a plucky young heroine/hero (Buffy, Ender, Katniss, Tris) facing seemingly insurmountable odds in a bizarre reality, who somehow finds a way out in the end.

This past weekend I attended a conference in Boston for people with stage IV lung cancer, whose tumors have specific genetic changes (EGFR, ALK, and ROS1) that can be treated with targeted medicines. It was remarkable to hear from the rock star doctors who are conducting the research that is keeping me alive. What was possibly even more powerful, however, was to sit in a room full of a hundred people who are on this same crappy journey as me. Many of these people I had already "met" and they have become an important support system for me, my lung cancer family. But all of my interactions with them have taken place in a virtual space, social media or patient/caregiver online groups. At times I have wondered if they actually exist or if my mind had created them as a coping mechanism (for the Buffy fans out there, think S06E17 "Normal Again"). I'm not naturally a very huggy person, but I felt the urge to hug each and every person I met there. I'm embarrassed to admit that the words "You're real!" escaped my lips at one point. 

All of us in that room are living in a weird dual reality, looking (and often feeling) quite normal but knowing that we have advanced, incurable cancer - "eventually terminal" as one person said.

It's a strange reality to live in, which is part of why I feel like the line between real life and fiction sometimes seems so blurry. I think part of what makes it all seem so unreal is the juxtaposition of things. I spend my days with my adorable kiddos who are so full of life, then check my phone and read about another person entering hospice. I look and feel relatively normal, but know that my odds of being around 4 years from now are less than 4% (if you believe the statistics, which some say are inaccurate because of how quickly things are changing - THANK YOU RESEARCH).

I am so glad I went to Boston last weekend (where I also got to catch up with my old Rough & Tumble Theatre crew!!!). I geeked out on cancer research, and meet face to face with so many people that have inspired, informed, and encouraged me throughout this journey. Beth, Luna, Robyn, Jon, Leslie, Andy, Kathy, Jeff, Corey, Carole, Robyn, Tony, Nicole, Dan, Bernie, Craig, Kris, Ria, Bonnie, Kyle, Sharon, and everyone else, thank you for being real!


Anonymous said...

It doesn't make you sound crazy at all. I'd probably have the same reaction as you did. :D

Emily said...

Haha. Maybe this is why I haven't met anyone in person yet. Maybe y'all are imaginary!

Tori Tomalia said...

Thanks, Ruth. That is, if you really ARE Ruth! ;)

Tori Tomalia said...

You never know, Emily, you never know. :)

Luna O. said...

I agree, Tori. It was so great to meet our cancer community last weekend. I look forward to seeing you and the others again someday soon.

Oren said...

Definitely a strange reality. I look at myself and I see a healthy guy. I lost some weight, so I even look better than before... But then I know--I have the cloud on top of me reminding me all the time.