Being diagnosed with cancer changed a lot of things in my life. It changed how I perceived things. It changed how I handled situations. It changed my outlook on certain things, perhaps making myself seem more jaded, or even cynical.
Maybe a little.
Last weekend, Virginia Tech had their annual Relay For Life Event, an entire event dedicated to bringing awareness to cancer research and funding. Survivors are applauded, philanthropy flows, and others tend to bring awareness through social media and attendance. While absent-mindedly scrolling through my Instagram, I stopped abruptly and glared at someone’s childhood photograph. This person changed their profile picture in order to raise awareness for Relay for Life, explaining that even though they had a happy and healthy childhood, others don’t. A wave of anger crashed into me; I couldn’t help but cringe. It’s not because they are making an honest attempt to be involved, but to hear the idea of someone assuming my childhood was ruined because of cancer hit a nerve. What the fuck do they know?
I cannot rally with Relay for Life. Sure, I believe in raising cancer awareness, like symptoms and screening. Sure, I believe in cancer research and funding (because we need it). It’s the public response, the “activism” of others, that I cannot support. I feel that this is like a “whose-dick-is-bigger” contest. Is it really about helping someone, or is it about who can raise the most, like this is some sort of competition. People spew long, floury social media posts about their experience with cancer, but for what?? Telling the story about your great-grandmother dying of cancer when you were 7 is not going to bring her back; it’s not going to help the Relay for Life cause, it’s not going to find a fucking cure. People use this as pity platform, seeing whose story can get the most likes, the most shares, the most “support”. It feels like a contest, not a rally, of who has the saddest story.
The “victory” lap for survivors is supposed to applaud their journey and acknowledge their heroism. Honestly, I feel uncomfortable with this, putting survivors on a pedestal. It’s like saying, “Sorry you almost died of cancer, but here’s some artificial empathy and one extra lap for everyone to stare at you”. Jeez, I didn’t know that this would make me feel understood! I don’t feel like a hero; I don’t want to be treated like a hero. Heroes make an impact in lives, they go out of their way to help others, they risk their lives for others, even strangers. That doesn’t reflect someone who is just fighting to save their own life, in doing what is perfectly natural for another human being to do in times of peril: fight.
That doesn’t make a hero. That doesn’t make me a hero.
Relay for Life can be important. Similar to the commercials for the St. Jude hospitals, where they portray little sad cancer kids, it isn’t necessary. It won’t make people more aware of cancer. It won’t make people give any more money. Filtering all this money for “awareness”, your ads and your rallies, aren’t helping the people dying; it’s not saving their lives.
I wish I was wrong, but this is the truth of the matter. People live and people die, one way or another. Nothing will change that, especially this “relay for life”.
Or maybe, I’m just cynical.