Home About Us Features Write Now! Submit Resources

What I Carry

by Phyllis Bronstein

Very few carried underwear. On their feet they carried jungle boots - 2.1 pounds - and Dave Jensen carried three pairs of socks and a can of Dr. Scholl's foot powder as a precaution against trench foot. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity.

Excerpt from The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien

What do I carry with me, through this cancer war? I have discovered the wonderful gift of denial. Jews tend to catastrophize, imagine and prepare for the worst that could happen. That's very familiar to me. My father carried imminent catastrophe on his shoulders for most of his life - about what could go wrong in his business, who might be cheating him, what terrible trouble would befall his children, and what awful disease was eating away at his intestines. He turned 98 in May, and is going strong. Did his handy knapsack of fears keep him alive?

My mother had a lump in her breast at 87. The doctors cut it out and gave her seven weeks of radiation. She still (seven years later) does not think it was really cancer. The hardest thing was having to get undressed and dressed again every day for the treatments. She claims it was all unnecessary.

So maybe she has passed that gift on to me. I go to groups, listen to people's symptoms and side effects and fears, and say, not me, not me. I challenge my doctor on all her decisions. But do I really need surgery? What if the post-chemo MRI shows the tumors are gone (it did). Do I have to have radiation? The surgery showed no cancer anywhere. Do I have to take Herceptin?

I read the research literature. I figure the odds. I focus on all the good outcomes, all the high probabilities - I'm in the confidence interval. I snarl when I hear the term "in remission." I think: complete cure and glowing good health and nothing less.

I love denial - couldn't live without it.