On September 11, 2001 a group of determined terrorists shocked, horrified, and angered the nation by killing over 2,000 people on our own soil. America found out that where we thought we were safest, we were vulnerable. We learned that where we thought ourselves strong, we were weak. It was a critical blow to our national self-image, pride, esteem, and suddenly and abruptly ended our days of naive and ultimately ignorant belief that we were inviolate within our own borders.
Our reaction was, as you know, pretty dramatic. We declared war. We tightened our borders. We geared up to fight, not a country, but an idea. We called it the War on Terrorism and, for a short period of time, Terrorism had a face called Osama bin Laden. Only, like cancer, terror is a hydra with many faces. Chop off one and another appears. The Taliban was the next face. Then it was Al Qaeda as a whole. Then Saddam Hussein. Now back to the Taliban again. Rinse and repeat.
Terrorism is the cancer of the world and we fight it the same way we fight cancer. We seek it out. We eradicate it and hope that not a single cell is left over to restart the cancer again. We protect ourselves against future terror by strictly regulating what comes in and out of our “body,” our borders. We change our behaviors so we don’t increase our chance of attack through slack attention to security.
It has left a scar on us as a nation – the smokey ruins of the Towers, now cleaned up but still a savage, ugly, scar across the face of America. We live in a constant state of anxiety, afraid of a possible future, an eventuality that may or may not happen. We fear another terrorist attack. We strictly, and sometimes irrationally, attack anything that looks even remotely like terrorism. We accept detaining or killing innocent people to cut the terror cancer from our lives – because they were close to terror but not necessarily of it.
We don’t look to tomorrow with hope, we don’t see potential and possibility behind every door. Those days are behind us. We are not so innocent anymore. We don’t see the sun now; we see the shadows. We don’t see the potential for gain, we see the possibility of harm. We willingly give up our freedoms for the illusion of temporary security – because we are so traumatized by our firsthand experience with terrorism.
If terrorism is a cancer, then cancer is a terrorist – not in that it uses fear and terror as a means to accomplish a political goal, but the effects of cancer on a person are very much like the effects of terrorism on people and nations. As a cancer survivor I live every day in a state of terror, uncertainty, and fear that I will get attacked again. I alluded to it in my blog post titled “Living an Unbalanced Life” where I said I had “cancer PTSD.”
Like America, I have a scar from my cancer. Numerous ones. My most magnificent is a nice, long, 10-inch scar on my neck, which is now deformed because surgery was forced to remove some of my neck muscle to ensure we got the cancer. Very much like being willing to detain or kill innocent people to ensure we get all of the terrorists. I accepted this scar – the reality that I would forever compromise how people saw me – to ensure that the cancer was well and truly gone. I accepted the fact that I would forever have a large scar on my abdomen where the feeding tube was inserted into my belly so I could eat while I dealt with the high morbidity of my radiation treatments. It seemed a small price to pay, no?
I changed my behaviors as soon as I found out I had cancer. I immediately started watching what I put into my body. I stopped smoking my occasional cigar – one of my truly guilty pleasures that I enjoyed immensely. I quit drinking caffeine. I reduced the sugar in my diet – because cancer loves sugar. I limited my sun exposure. Again, this is very similar to America tightening borders, our no-fly lists, and our scrutiny of people and cargo coming in and out. It just makes sense, right?
And now, almost 3 years later, I suffer from the trauma of my terrorist attack – of my cancer. Every little pain I have I immediately suspect and it sends me spiraling into a “I have cancer” funk. It could be a fat lip that I convince myself is cancer. It could be a weakened gallbladder. It could be a sprained shoulder. I am so traumatized by my experience with cancer that I live in constant fear and I over-analyze every twitch, twinge, or rumble of my body. I wake up every morning with a silent dread in the back of my consciousness, convinced that this is going to be the day I find out I still have cancer. I roll out of bed, feeling at once so grateful I am alive and survived my cancer but also filled with a vague sadness and conviction that I am on borrowed time.
This affects my day-to-day living. It impacts my happiness, by ability to be content, and my plans for the future. It affects my wife, my children, my family, and everyone who comes into contact with me. Similarly, America suffers. We have terror PTSD as a nation. We label, incorrectly, everything as terrorism. We live in fear of a new attack. We let it affect our daily lives and accept the misery and sadness that we give to ourselves – because we know we’re going to get attacked again.
I’m not depressed. I’m just filled with anxiety. I dodged a bullet and it scares me to no end that there could be another cancer bullet out there with my name on it. I hope there isn’t, but I must face the reality that it could be there. I fear that if I get attacked again I won’t be able to dodge the bullet a second time and, more importantly, I am not sure I would handle a second attack as well as I did the first. Now I know what to expect and I’m cringing, pulling away, even before the gun fires.
Is my fear unreasonable? Is my anxiety unwarranted? No; it is not. Any cancer survivor reading this will attest to the fact that you are never the same after diagnosis. Some primal innocence we didn’t even realize we still retained gets stripped away, leaving us raw and vulnerable. What is unreasonable, though, is to let this anxiety and fear continue to adversely affect the quality of my life. I have to come to grips with this new world I live in; I must accept it and live my life in spite of the uncertainty I now know is there. If I cannot do it on my own, I need to seek the help of someone who can assist me in dealing with my fear and anxiety.
Terrorism is a cancer. Cancer is a terrorist. We must make sure that the cure does not kill the patient, and we must make sure that we find ourselves again when it is over – we have to enjoy our lives and start living again. We cannot let the terror or cancer change who we fundamentally are, else the cancer or terror may as well have beat us. We also cannot ever afford to be less vigilant – we must rise up and fight cancer and terrorism whenever and wherever we find it. To fail to do so will eventually destroy us.
I went through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to rid myself of cancer. We nearly killed the patient to cure the disease. And the trauma of that haunts me to this day. Moving on and reclaiming my life, becoming who I want to be instead of what the cancer forced me to be is hard, scary, and so daunting as to seem an insurmountable mountain.
It seems to me that America is not so different.