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It Has Been Cancelled

On the last day of February, 2018, I finished 18 grueling chemotherapy treatments. Although bald and bloated, I was filled with hope that I would be “once and done.” I had logged many hours in the uncomfortable chairs at the infusion center, staring at the gong they had designated as “the exit bell.” I had seen Facebook pictures of other teal sisters who had completed treatment with fanfare and applause, a festive cake and congratulatory posters. I couldn’t wait to celebrate my milestone as well.

There was very little pomp and circumstance. A dear friend showed up to cheer me on and shoot a video with her phone. The frazzled nurses looked up from their charting duties to wave me goodbye. But to me, it was the commemoration of the first day of the rest of my life, and I was positively giddy with excitement.

By April, 2019, I was back in chemo, this time at a different, much more sophisticated facility, and although I was disappointed to be back in warrior mode, I was determined to win again. I began looking for the bell at my first infusion and when I didn’t see one prominently displayed, I asked about it. I was told that although there was one in the radiation department, they hadn’t gotten around to getting their own. Another patient, overhearing the conversation, offered to donate one, and by the time I finished my treatment in late August, there was a big brass school bell housed in a Plexiglas case at the nurses’ station.

Again, I had a friend along, and armed with her professional camera, she took hundreds of candid shots, chronicling the day, including my ringing of that bell. The nurses applauded, and I gave a little speech. We celebrated with all of the enthusiasm we could muster.

Unfortunately, in March, 2021, I found myself returning to IV chemo after the oral therapy failed to keep the cancer at bay. I was disappointed, but determined. And four months later, I was done, poised to ring it once again. But this time was different; the big brass bell in the Plexiglas case had disappeared. When I asked where it had gone, I was told that they had abandoned the practice after being concerned that some folks whose treatment was ongoing and unending might be offended and saddened over witnessing the ritual. I was taken aback. Wasn’t I one of those people since my condition is now considered chronic, with the probability of needing more infusions? I would never be upset if I got to share in someone’s triumph. Certainly, the ringing of the bell signifies hope for all of us who fight the cancer beast. It is significant, a powerful rite-of-passage, and a celebration of survival shared by so many warriors all over the world. What had changed? And then, it occurred to me.

“So the bell ringing has been cancelled.” I simply said. And suddenly, I truly understood the implications of that statement.

Cancel culture is a term that didn’t exist just a few years ago, but it is alive and well in modern America. It started as a means of expressing collective displeasure, public backlash over someone or something that wasn’t in the best interest of the nation or society-at-large. But it quickly evolved into a form of bullying as the vast outreach of the internet became a platform for mob intimidation. I must admit I hadn’t given the whole idea much thought until now. I suppose that most of us fail to pay attention to situations until they become individually significant. And that can be dangerous.

I was taken aback. How could one person’s medical victory become a reason for someone to be personally insulted? I was baffled. I couldn’t imagine not cheering on a fellow cancer survivor who had reached a milestone in his or her treatment. If the opposite of love is selfishness, then, this was a prime example of that. And while it made me sad, it also made me curious about the implications of cancel culture.

If the idea behind the elimination of things that were important a brief time ago is to force us to pay attention to how we treat each other, then, why does it feel so hurtful, and divisive, ultimately causing us to take sides? How do we determine that one person’s negative emotional response to a situation is more important than another’s positive one? And who gets to determine what gets boycotted, muted, or erased? These are the questions that weighed heavily on my mind as I left the infusion center on what should have been a happy day.

Socrates said that if we are to get to the truth, we are to ask, discarding implausible answers until ultimately, we arrive at the one which is most valid. It is an idea that still makes sense today. It is human nature to search for reasons, to analyze and understand. For it is through that process that we are able to accept. And yet, in our present culture, where the current popular opinion must be acknowledged and agreed upon just to escape the criticism, the asking of why is discouraged.

My wise momma used to say, “just because everybody is doing something doesn’t mean you should.” And she was right. To blindly accept is dangerous: anyone can manipulate your thoughts with reasons that seem logical. To quote Shakespeare, “Even the devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”

The inability to consider others, to forgive, discuss, and move on keeps us mad and sad. Let’s face it: a wound that never heals will continue to be painful. We are relational creatures who need each other. Have we forgotten that? Somehow, we need to believe that we are all are capable of compassion and change, especially if we raise the expectations and treat others with kindness and understanding.

If we view life as something that we will never take delight in, if we are always looking for fault and blame, if we are constantly offended, we will never have peace or move on in pursuit of happiness. None of us will ever get to ring that symbolic bell of triumph. And that raises the ultimate question: why must we eliminate? To subtract means to “take away,” so why can’t we “add to,” multiplying instead of dividing, making this a land of abundance for all of us? I wish I had the answers. As for me, I have learned that if you look for negativity, you will most certainly find it; if you look for joy, you will find that, too. Each day is a special gift and on this one, I choose joy. And by the way, I had a lovely crystal bell at home, and you had better believe that I rang the heck out of it.

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