A few years back (OKAY, more than a few years back; I’ll blame the cancer for my time lapse), there was a spin-off from the original Star Trek: Star Trek: The Next Generation captained by Jean-Luc Picard (a.k.a. Patrick Stewart) which itself spawned two other spin-offs: Star Trek Voyager and Deep Space Nine (commanded by Avery Brooks, a.k.a. Captain Sisko). I was reminded of this television-watching time of my life recently when I saw a former Deep Space Nine actor’s name (the son, actually: Remy) in the credits of a recent “The Good Wife”: Auberjonois.
On Deep Space Nine, René Auberjonois (the father) played a non-humanoid character from a race known as Changelings, shape shifters; a species able to transform/conform/reform itself into any shape. For the purpose of the show, Constable Odo, as he was known, who was the director of security on the space station, “shape shifted” himself into a humanoid form. He mostly looked, acted and spoke as any other human. However, his facial features were noticeably imperfect, and his ears were also a bit unusual. Occasionally, when Odo did not go to his quarters in a reasonable cycle of time (never really specified) and in turn did not have the opportunity to return to his natural state: described as “gelatinous goo,” to reside in his bucket, his features would begin to lose their shape and he would appear to be melting (an occurrence/appearance he was determined to hide). Though this circumstance rarely manifested itself, when it did, Odo explained how stressful it was for him to maintain the shape/illusion of a humanoid (given the intricacies of the species) and how the demands of doing so (consciously, subconsciously) were nearly overwhelming. This story line was not dominant, but us regular viewers understood the ongoing strain on Odo and what might happen if he didn’t have the time to regenerate in his bucket.
Now I don’t have a natural state other than the obvious, or a bucket for that matter (I have a couch), but I can certainly relate to Odo’s emotional/psychological fears and anxieties and the effort required to maintain what appears – to the outside world anyway, to be a “normal” existence. For a cancer survivor/patient, “normal” no longer exists. In fact, the date of your diagnosis/prognosis is the day/date when normal ceases to exist. For me, that date was February 27, 2009, the date Team Lourie first met with my oncologist and heard the unbelievable news that I had non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV, a “terminal” diagnosis. My oncologist further added that he could “treat me but he couldn’t cure me.” “Excuse me. What did you say?”
And just like Odo, I try to hide/minimize my situation. I don’t want to, if at all possible, exhibit any of the signs or circumstances of my diagnosis. I try to live life as normally as possible and not bring attention to myself or my particular challenges. Let me assure you, maintaining this façade would be a lot easier if I too had a bucket in which I could return to some gelatinous-type goo and regain my strength. But I don’t. I only have my privacy, where I can retreat in an attempt to summon up the fortitude necessary to take each day as it comes without further adieu. Some days are more difficult than others, particularly those days waiting for the results of a current CT Scan two months after a prior scan showed new tumors/growth. Odo mostly managed to endure his unique challenges, and I am striving to do the same. Seeing the actor’s name on television the other week inspired me that even though I am often alone with my thoughts, I am not alone. And as one who has been there and done that, I know there is strength in our survivor numbers; hopefully in reruns too, especially when you’ve been given a “terminal” diagnosis.