I was not thinking of any of the symptoms during writing sessions. But after all the writing thoughts, it was back to fighting, or rather, enduring.
Amazingly, the cancer symptoms started receding almost immediately, as the tumors receded. The tumors shrunk to the point surgeons could open me up and remove what was left at the end of the summer. In what they removed, they only found scar tissue from dead cancer cells. All the postsurgical agony felt worth it. Nine months after thinking I might very well be in the dying 88 percent, I had a good chance of landing in the 12 percent of survivors. I have a good chance of joining the more than 15 million cancer survivors in the United States, spanning every race and place, nearly every American family.
I have a good chance of being able to never stop mourning the millions of our loved ones who died of cancer, such as my uncle who died last year, such as an uncle and grandfather who died months before my birth in 1982. And I can return to my work with a new sense of perspective.
America’s politics, in my lifetime, have been shaped by racist fears of black criminals, Muslim terrorists, and Latino immigrants. Billions have been spent on border walls and prison walls and neighborhood walls, and on bombs and troops and tax cuts—instead of on cancer research, prevention, and treatment that can reduce the second-leading cause of death. Any politician pledging to keep us safe who is drastically overfunding law and order, border security, and wars on terror—and drastically underfunding medical research, prevention, and health care—is a politician explicitly pledging to keep our bodies unsafe.
Nearly 600,000 Americans die every year from cancer; roughly 20,000 die annually from homicides. What if we blamed politicians for every single cancer death like we blame them for every single murder? What if a cancer death was as newsworthy as a murder? What if we demanded more medical researchers and doctors and nurses and nutritionists on the streets to keep us safe? What if we demanded more hospital beds like we demand more prison beds? What if we looked at industrial waste and fast food like we look at gangs of organized crime?
For decades, racist ideas nurtured my fears of being murdered by a black or Latino or Middle Eastern body. Today my own striving to be antiracist, my own elementary mathematical skills, my own diagnosis nurture my fear of dying of cancer, suicide, an accident, septicemia, influenza, stroke, diabetes, or heart, kidney, upper-respiratory, Alzheimer’s, or liver disease, which altogether account for 75 percent of all deaths in the United States.
These fears pushed my writing pace last year. But the more my fear of death changed into the wonder of survival, the more I reflected on what I was writing. If I could live on, why not live on to be antiracist? Why not live to be fully human and see all others as fully human, and fight to ensure our policies see and treat all humans fully and equitably?
It was this living on that was hard to envision a year ago. When I stood over my daughter’s crib, I rocked her longer than usual in the darkness. I held her tighter than usual. I did not want to let her go. I did not want to let my own life go as her father. But I thought, in that moment, that we have to let life go to see ourselves and heal ourselves for the better. We have to let life go to have life.
I let her go. She turned on her stomach as if she’d see me again, as if I’d survive.