The Island of the Misfit Toys

And of our own self images, they’re not influenced by much positive representations.  Especially those of us at stage IV. The stage no one wants to know much about at all.  We, the misfits, don’t measure up to Santa’s ultra high standards, and become the toys left behind on Christmas Eve.  Weepy-eyed, we stand shivering from the cold, waving goodbye to the tail end of a sleigh, to Santa Clause’s fat ass, and reindeer tail lights.

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Metastatic cancer feels a little to me as though I am standing along with the rest of our group on a lonely island in the middle of an unknown world, called the Island of Misfit Toys. This fictitious land of Yukon Cornelius, of Rudolf one red nosed (drunk?) reindeer who guided Santa that cold Christmas night, and of Dennis who wants to become a dentist.  By the way, a study on social cognition and a desire to maintain positive feelings about the self,  Dennis and Denise represented a higher proportion suggested that people disproportionately choose careers whose labels resemble their names (e.g., people named Dennis or Denise are overrepresented among dentists) And of our own self images, they’re not influenced by much positive representations.

Especially those of us at stage IV, the stage about which no one wants to know much about at all.  We, the misfit metastats, don’t quite measure up to Santa’s ultra high standards. Therefore, we become like the toys left behind on Christmas Eve as we watch bleary-eyed and all shivering from the cold, waving goodbye to the rear end of a sleigh overflowing with gifts for everyone else. We wave to Santa Clause and his big fat ass and to eight wagging reindeer tails.  We wave as we stand alongside Mrs. Clause, who holds a glass of wine and smiles knowingly.

Betty Clause – I imagine this is her first name I don’t know how why – Betty’s thoughts travel inside the Clause residence,  followed by her plump reubenesque body into a frankincense infused, well deserved, hot and steamy bubble bath. Then, as she sinks into the temperature perfect water, I hear her sobbing tears of joy. The kind of joy we’ve all felt after a long hard job well done. She smiles and weeps at the lack of noise and and a home devoid of all the stress. Now the elves have packed up and went away until next winter, and Dennis has gone to dental academy, and all the reindeer shits been scooped up, and Betty gets a little girl time to herself! Finally!

Sadly, unlike Betty Clause, we won’t see jolly Saint Nick coming back after a magical night of delivering toys to deserving children. Instead we must look to break out of the loneliness and outside of a life without someone to cuddle our stuffed bodies covered in matted faux fur, as I feel sometimes as though I were a used up stuffed bear waiting to be yanked off the floor by my arm and taken under someone’s elbow.  The elbow of a boy who used to love me more than any other toy in the box.

I feel the compression that too much alone time can cause, like an astronaut without a helmet, the ring around his neck empty leaving him gasping purple in an airless infinite darkness for a breath of nonexistent oxygen.  Perhaps, and more apropos, metastatic breast cancer survivors represent a horde of Barbie dolls, freakish perverted proportions, and missing one or both of her once disproportionately large nipple-less breasts. Our torsos wrapped in gauze, we hobble back to the warmth of the factory, now quiet after the seasonal rush.

What I do know of cancer’s tonnage dump of loneliness is this: it’s a single perfectly understood universal gestalt, which  includes the undeniable, unbearable heaviness of spending our days just ghostly and a turn a whiter shade of pale. Once death becomes a friend we join the universe’s energy again and mix it up. Imagine if you can, a rave that ends only when your soul, composed of the imperishable neurological energy created by our brains during our momentary, slippery lifetime.  Yet we came up short on everything truly important until it’s too late. Until we found out we had an expiry stamped on our ass that’s not easy to read even under the best light and with the best pair of medical glasses that the cancer industry has loosed on the oncologists who work to keep us alive longer.

But we’re stuck here alone without those who loved our better selves, alone with our thoughts and dreams, alone with our entire life erased from the great whiteboard in the sky and waiting to be written over by us, preferably soon and preferably with a happy ending to our stories.

Yes, I ramble. But I hope you get the point.  The imperfect beings made more imperfect by metastatic cancer of any kind aren’t the kinds of people who you’re gonna pop by and see, the guilt ridden phone call you know you should make but haven’t and shit, the longer you wait, the more difficult that call becomes. We the misfit toys don’t care when you call, when you stop by, what you DO NOT bring, what you want to talk about or do not want to discuss.  As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I don’t want to talk about cancer either.  So come by, call, write, I’m still me.  I’m still thinking about the Columbia University findings regarding how people make important life decisions on unconscious tags for better or for worse.  We make our decisions so irrationally, it seems, that there must be some reason, something we don’t realize.  Here’s the well stated conclusion of this very interesting paper on Attitudes and Social Cognition.

The findings of this report stand in sharp contrast to many of the assumptions that both scientists and lay people have typically made about major life decisions. For example, these findings raise serious questions about whether people are fully in control of their own behavior. Nonetheless, the idea that people make major life decisions on the basis of unconscious decision rules does not necessarily mean that people are irrational. Instead, the specific form of implicit egotism identified in this research may represent an unconscious route through which people create social worlds that typically make them feel good.

Such speculations aside, the most important implications of these studies may be the most obvious: there may be much more in a name than most people realize. To paraphrase an anonymous author of tongue twisters, this research offers some new insights into why some people might find it more satisfying than others to sell seashells by the seashore. Why do we seem to make so many important life decisions based on unconscious emotional responses? I suppose we truly trust our guts to decide what makes us happy? Is it the same reasoning That causes so many more people with the names Denise and Dennis becomd dentists than those named Bill or Belinda?

I assume if there were more personally uplifting stories of some of us who were doing well, pictures of us with hair not just with our turban or wig slightly off kilter on our heads, or emaciated from the ravages of chemotherapy with puffy grey circles like rain clouds under our eyes, then maybe the loneliness of cancer wouldn’t be so deep and dark.  Maybe so many husbands and partners wouldn’t become depressed or even leave.  Maybe we would meet more people like ourselves instead of hiding away to stay at home.  The wounds deepen with every passing month, albeit invisible wounds. The kind that even Santa Clause can’t put on his list as us being naughty or nice this year.

The findings of this report stand in sharp contrast to many of the assumptions that both scientists and lay people have typically made about major life decisions. For example, these findings raise serious questions about whether people are fully in control of their own behavior. Nonetheless, the idea that people make major life decisions on the basis of unconscious decision rules does not necessarily mean that people are irrational. Instead, the specific form of implicit egotism identified in this research may represent an unconscious route through which people create social worlds that typically make them feel good. Such speculations aside, the most important implications of these studies may be the most obvious: there may be much more in a name than most people realize.

To paraphrase an anonymous author of tongue twisters, this research offers some new insights into why some people might find it more satisfying than others to sell seashells by the seashore.

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