Cancer Narcissism and the Things of This World

The mind must attend to itself, to its own existence. It scans, assesses, summons us to rise or sleep.

It is a self-perpetuating organ that attempts to drive its own perpetuity.

When cancer invades the body, as it has mine, now my arm bone and both lungs, the mind – my mind – moves into focus, fixation. All thoughts lead to tumors. I wake up and scan for pains and aches. Could be a recurrence. Could mean death.

Fixation turns to obsession and closes me off from noticing the sunrise, listening to the mockingbirds of this morning, or just closing my eyes and enjoying being. I lose life. In dwelling on cancer, I lose precious time.

It’s a difficult balance. My mind, in its drive for survival, hungers for wellness, insists on roving for any possible bodily blip, taking up emotional and cognitive space for simple living.

I understand this need. It is simple care driven to the end of the continuum, labeled now as “hypervigilance” or “anxiety” on the scales of self-awareness. I understand this need, but it interferes with my life, and I struggle to practice living each day without succumbing to grief, despair, or panic.

There’s another dark side to this self-monitoring: narcissism. A medically-induced self-centeredness. Constant bodily scanning, medical appointments, discussions about “how are you” and the morning confrontation of lymphedema, arm pain, and hair loss (yet again) turn my gaze inward. Some of this can’t be helped, as the new normal of my life means accommodating these side effects. But I don’t like it. And I am keenly aware of how much of this chronicling of my ailments is so self-ish. As in, revolving around me.

Hello, I say to the mirror, noting my falling lashes. Hello, echoes my mouth.

I turn away from this reflection each day and make myself engage with the world. One must converse with both the bodies and birds, deliberate on the nature of things, I hear my old professor say. I will not be a prisoner to the tyranny of disease, I will not allow cancer to become a home base. Life continues. People have lives, lives that I am genuinely interested in hearing about, want to ask about, want to be a part of outside of illness. Weeds need pulling. Apples need picking. A friend wants coffee, the leaves are already piled.

An owl hoots and the morning garbage truck roars down the road.


Look up, the world tells me.

And I do. Will do. Must do.


person holding round frame less mirror
Photo by Lisa Fotios on

5 thoughts on “Cancer Narcissism and the Things of This World”

  1. Jojobird,
    I love your writing. We have not stood face to face, I don’t know you, but your words are so in sync with how I hope to be. Who is that professor who passed on such wisdom? How did you gain the self awareness to bring your mind back to the moment over and over?
    Holding you in the light.


    1. Falconer,
      I feel that we are kindred spirits in this difficult cancer path. Thank you so much for your kind words. I don’t remember the professor’s name, but the words just came back to me. Wishing you strength and healing. Xo Jojo


  2. My dear late friend Guy who died a year and a half ago from ocular cancer had a very clear philosophy that he lived by through his very final days. He used to say, “Even though I’m dying, I’m not going to stop living.”

    And did he ever live. Despite the cancer, he made sure that there was always something to look forward to – as just one example, as soon as one vacation ended, he planned the next. He died days after the launch of his biography “A Good Life”, an aptly titled book for a life truly lived so very well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Magellan, your friend Guy’s philosophy speaks to me. It’s so important to operate “as if,” — that is, as if we’re not ill, as if the world will still turn. It’s the only way to stay invested in this life. And there is joy in just the planning. Thank you for this reminder.


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