Cancer and the Emergency Broadcast System

On a day-to-day basis, what’s it like to have cancer? Well, it’s like this…

Imagine you’ve just sat down to enjoy your favorite television program.  You’ve arranged your snacks and beverages, selected a comfy outfit, grabbed a cushion and settled in.  Maybe you’re alone but if you’re lucky you have a few friends around you.  Then, just as the show you’ve been waiting to see begins, you hear a horrible screeching sound followed by the words, “this is a test of the emergency broadcast system.”  Except, it’s not a test.  This is the real deal.  A new show is airing on your television.  You can’t turn it off and you can’t walk out of the room because the consequence are literally life or death.  You must stay.  You must watch.  You do not have a choice.

For a moment you forget about the show you were planning to watch.  You might even forget your surroundings and what it was you were doing there in the first place.  All you can think about is that horrible screeching noise ringing in your ears and the paralyzing fear of the great unknown.  Then questions flood you.  What is this new nonsense broadcast you are now being forced to watch? How long will you be forced to watch this?  How bad will it be?  Do you have any options?

Gradually, you return to your senses.  It begins to dawn on you that there was a program that you were about to watch and you start to wonder if you will get to glimpse pieces of it.  You realize you don’t care about this new broadcast.  You don’t want to watch this.  This isn’t what you signed up for.   This isn’t why you have cable.  This is bullshit.

But, no matter how you might reason or attempt to plot your way back to your show, the program doesn’t return. Slowly you realize this is going take a while.  You might become so involved in this new program that for a time you forget what it was you were going to watch all together.  If you have friends in the room, you might take stock of their faces and hope that none of them are planning to bolt because deep down you know this wasn’t their plan either, and you feel a little guilty for spoiling everyone’s plans.  However, if you’re lucky they stay, offer to turn down the volume, and suggest a card game while you wait.

The tricky thing about the emergency broadcast system is that you never know when it’s going to go off. There is no discernable pattern.  Just because this one went on for two minutes doesn’t mean that the next one will.  Just because the system was tested on Tuesday doesn’t mean they won’t test it again Saturday night, and while you know a test could happen at any time, each time the tests come without warning.

Cancer is the emergency broadcast system constantly interrupting your television viewing plans.  You never know if watching your favorite show is going to work out or if you’re going to be thwarted.  Having cancer means constantly dealing with unpredictability when you would really rather just be living your life.  Having cancer is desperately wishing you could just go back to your regularly scheduled program and crossing your fingers that the emergency broadcast ends soon.


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