Cancer Is a Horror Story
Back in the seventies and eighties, I read a lot of horror literature. Often to the dismay of my parents, I insisted that it was valuable to read because the horror genre allowed authors to explore themes that were otherwise difficult to tackle or even taboo. To me, it seemed some of the more complex themes of the day were touched upon in genre fiction in ways that were quite accessible. Horror fiction did not just exist to scare. The frights often inspired thought as well.
Cancer is like a Stephen King novel
Key among the influential authors I was reading, was the young Stephen King. In addition to his famous novels, he wrote quite a few relatively inconsequential short stories. In the frenzy of adaptations of his work, a number of those short stories were turned into relatively inconsequential films. One of those that sticks out for me, especially lately, is his story, Sometimes They Come Back.
In this particular story, King writes of a group of thugs who are terrorizing a man who then is forced to take justice into his own hands, only to discover that the thugs have a way of returning. To make matters worse, the movie adaptation spawned a sequel. For me, it is hard to find a better metaphor at the moment for cancer and the side effects of treatment.
Finding the hidden meaning
A while ago, I thought I was getting a reprieve from the rash that has been terrorizing my body for the past few months. It seemed that things were acclimating for me, the rash was letting up, and perhaps I would be able to tolerate my medication for an extended period without change. In fact, I had been forced to stop using the steroid cream on my arms and legs due to excessive thinning of the skin. And it was the cessation of this steroid that seemed to result in a marked reduction in discomfort. Just as quickly as symptoms appeared to clear up, they returned; they returned, as it were, with a vengeance.
Such is the way with these side effects and symptoms and even the cancers themselves. There is a certain joy when side effects are gone, but not without the underlying dread that they may return. Cancer journeys are rife with an anxious sort of suspense. They are filled all too often with unexpected and unpleasant surprises.
But also like a really good horror story, these cancer journeys offer moments of deep catharsis and, when guided by the right hands, the opportunity for inspiration and introspection. Because getting to the end of a good story, regardless of genre, means gaining something more meaningful from the experience. And inside of a good story, we do learn something about ourselves.
Horror or comedy?
Cancer may be a horror story. It may be filled with ghosts and demons that make it hard to sleep at night. But it also is not without its hidden surprises, its unexpected themes, and if you look in the right places, there should be no shortage of dark humor and enlightenment.
Just as I argued to my parents 30 or 40 years ago, the genre is more than you make of it. Or it can be. Guided by the right hands, of course. And those hands can be yours, as you write your own narrative. As for me, I like to turn genres on their ears. This horror story of mine may just end up as a comedy after all.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?