“As an editor, I feel that the title…did the piece justice.”
In a debate as heated as two people can have via email, I’m arguing with an editor who has changed my article’s title. She wants me to showcase my survivorship in the headline to draw readers in, despite that the article isn’t really about being a survivor. She also wants me to sensationalize my own experience in a way that I find offensive, a way that minimizes every cancer survivor’s experiences as always being the same.
It ends with my revoking the article. If I have to cheapen my work to be more clickable at the cost of offending the cancer survivor community, it’s not worth it, I tell myself.
It’s hundreds of readers I’m sacrificing in the name of quality. For bloggers, it’s a minor act of popularity suicide in that I have now pissed off the editor, too. But my decision is an easy one to make: it’s quantity of likes or quality of content. This time, ne’er the two shall meet.
In this digital age, quality is now quantified by popularity. The more clicks, the more likes, the more views, the more important it is. When an Instagram post of a two-tone dress is headline news on CNN, freelance and media workers are all but asked to provide cheap thrills instead of quality content. So for the type of bloggers who write words rather than post images, today provides a tough professional landscape.
Regardless, what I believe matters most is integrity. If writers are to weaken the quality of our work in order to be more shocking for shock’s sake, then there is no point in writing at all. Robots can do that. Marketers can do that. There was a time when writers worked their lifetimes for no money or recognition or fame at all, maybe with hopes a post-humous recognition. They did it for the love of the work; they did it because they saw something new possible, something worth striving for. Sure, it drove them mad, but so does fame.
Popular opinion rarely coincides with lasting worth. Case in point: the faux-hawk, stuffed animal shaped backpacks, every boyband aside from the Beatles – who, by the way, risked everything in order to maintain the integrity of their vision. No Ringo, no Beatles they said.
Secondly, most importantly though I survived cancer and it certainly affects my everyday life, the fact of the matter is:
I AM NOT MY CANCER.
I am not it’s death or my survivorship, I am not it’s lessons, I am not it’s legacy. I am not it’s impact or it’s fear or even a cautionary tale of it. It’s totally and completely and eternally okay to stand for something without becoming it, without it needing to be your entire identity.
Cancer fighters and survivors, please take this to heart: though cancer can take over your physical being, it can never become all that you are. It can teach you many things, it can offer you deep, enthralling new perspectives on the most important topics of life, it can even do all these things years after you beat it, but it can never become you. It is the glasses that clarify your sight, but it is never be your ability to see. You can talk about it as much or as little as you want; you can think about it as often or as infrequently as you like. You can think of it in big or small ways because the point is that how you define it, how you interact with it during and after your battle is completely up to you.
Furthermore, no matter how big or how scary or how severe your cancer was, your fear of it is always in your control, too. If you remain present here, in this moment, and not attached to an outcome you’d like to have in the future, your fear of having it again or at all can never rule your life.
In the ten years since beating cancer, I’ve had many relationships with it. There’s been resentment, fear, forgiveness, gratitude. Having the dead cells still reside in my body is a little like carrying around the weapons of your slain enemy after the fight is over. It can’t hurt you in the now, but you also know it’s there, lurking in your backpack just where you can’t see it…
But regardless of the relationship I have with it mentally, emotionally or even professionally as a writer who pontificates on the matter, it is not who I am.
The essence of our selves is an intangible one. It is one free of pain and scars, free of illness, free from time and it’s constraints. It is one that cannot be damaged by any of life’s big events, and that’s what cancer teaches you. That no matter what happens to you physical body, deep inside is an untouchable, incredible, divine beingness that will never be mad about getting cancer even if it loses the battle. It’s a beingness made only of love, and when you realize that it has never been affected by the cancer, you realize the beauty and vastness of your being, and you cancer can never take you over.
The dictionary defines integrity as having ‘moral uprightness’. Integrity means standing upright, standing tall in your principles. Having integrity means honoring your beingness. Having integrity means knowing what you’re doing and why. It means acting in a way that is true to your vision, that is in line with the difference you want to make in the world in absolutely everything you do. For me, in this debate with the editor, it means honoring my own work enough not to change it for someone else. It means not letting my survivorship be a sale for their website. It means honoring my journey as one of a woman, a whole human, not a victim of cancer.
I am not my cancer just like you are not any of the aspects about your physical body that you like or dislike. When fear takes over how we interact with a part of ourselves – such as how we view our shape or a specific feature – we start to judge that aspect as inadequate. But if we treat it with respect, if we honor it as something powerful and respect it’s presence, we can keep it from controlling us and at the same time be freed of it.
You are not your weight or your size.
You are not your scars or your stretch marks or your extra long middle toe
You are not your career
You are not your failed relationship
You are not your mother, your father, your enemy
You are not the sum of your parts
You ARE the sum of your contributions, of the times you stood up for the things and people you believe in.
You ARE the untouchable energy vibrating inside your physical body, the energy that cannot be dimmed or harmed, that cannot be hurt but only loves and lights up your life
You ARE the only you in this world. You are unique and whole and important and you have a difference to make.
Along the way, you will be tested. Maintain your integrity, and you will look back on a life’s journey you can be proud of.
Photography by Kora Gleason (source)