Blog Post: Nobody Wants to Suffer

“Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship– in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

Nobody wants to suffer. Not the Ukrainian women and children frantically pushing their way into trains, trains heading anywhere.

Not the leukemia patient who wakes up to discover her cancer is gone, but so is her longtime boyfriend, career, and identity.

In her book Illness as a Metaphor, Susan Sontag writes: “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later, each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

Any cancer patient has wrestled with this reality. I thought about this a lot when I was going through my own cancer journey. I spent two years holding the passport belonging to the Kingdom of the Sick. After a year-long series of treatments (chemo, radiation, surgery, the works), I desperately wanted to find a way back to the Kingdom of Wellness, to board a train back to the Kingdom of Wellness, but I struggled to find a map, and the trains didn’t seem to go there. Stuck in the liminal place between both kingdoms, there were days when I was easing down the road, with a skip in my step, seemingly on the path to sunnier isles. Other times, like when the doctor removed my port, the residual glue on my chest itched and itched, bringing me back to my past. Like Janus, I was facing forward and backward. Removing my port was a milestone, symbolic and real–a sign of approval from my doctors that I was free to leave the building and board that train to the Wellness Kingdom. But the incessant itchiness and strict doctor’s orders–no exercise, no tubs–gently tugged me back, reminding me that I wasn’t quite ready.

As survivors, all we want is to live our lives without an asterisk hovering over it, without the anxiety of quarterly follow-up scans, blood work, or mental gymnastics over whether or not to get another booster, just in case. “Show me the map back to the living,” I pleaded as I lay in bed at night, long after everyone in the house was asleep. I’ve packed my bags, and I am ready to embark. But cancer is a stench of mortality that we can never quite wash away, no matter how hard we scrub. 

I initially wrote this piece, based on the poem Nothing Wants to Suffer, by Danusha Lameris, in 2022, in my wild writing group while undergoing cancer treatment. If I hadn’t had a supportive, nonjudgemental space to express what was coming up for me during that time, I don’t think I would have been able to process my emotions and setbacks as well.

If you or someone you know is struggling, consider joining our healing writing circles. No one needs to suffer alone. New groups are starting shortly. https://meeshahalm.com/free-range-writing-classes/