“Live strong” is a common slogan among cancer patients. I think I understand the slogan’s appeal, and I admire the spirit that lies behind it. But it doesn’t fit my experience, and I suspect I’m not alone.
Reduced life expectancy aside, the chief consequence of stage 4 cancers—even more, the chief consequence of their treatment—is weakness, not strength. Cancer and chemotherapy, taken together, are exhausting. Walking up a flight of stairs feels to me like running a couple of miles would feel to a typical out-of-shape 50-year-old, which is what I would be if I were healthy. All mental exercises are several times harder than they used to be. Concentrating takes real effort, and most of the time, I can’t pull it off—I have to read things twice (at least) in order to understand them once. My mind is two steps behind whatever conversation I’m in; I have to scramble to keep up. I feel half dead, as though a large fraction of whatever I was is gone, never to return.
In short, I can’t live strong, because there isn’t much strength left in me. But I can live weak.