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When I was diagnosed with cancer family and friends bombarded me with instructions on how to not only survive, but also thrive in the face of cancer. To be a successful cancer survivor you must eat a raw organic vegan gluten free diet, drink a green juice each morning, dry brush your skin daily, soak in Epsom salts and baking soda each night, drink a minimum of 15 glasses of reverse osmosis purified water daily, abstain from alcohol and caffeine, buy BPA free EVERYTHING, wear organic materials, meditate, practice yoga, get acupuncture, have an incredible therapist, buy an $800 air purifier, continue your career in a way that fulfills you and without any stress, get a therapy dog, and be an expert on any potential carcinogen (make up, cell phones, soy, celery anyone?). This is only a smattering of the most mainstream prescriptions that I received. Beating cancer was the easy part, but performing the part of healthy girl was another story.

To act out the part of successful cancer patient you need a lot of things. First, you need a lot of money. Next, you need a lot of time. Last, you need access to a ton of information. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have an incredibly strong and vast support network. But cancer doesn’t always happen within the privileged worlds of reality celebrities such as Giuliana Rancic, the Kardashians, or Jennifer Arnold. I will be the first to admit that upon diagnosis I was an overly educated cancer patient in an incredibly good hospital with a fabulous support network and a fare amount of resources at my fingertips. Still, I perpetually felt like a failure against glossy portrayals of contemporary cancer survivorship.

Cancer is not always vibrant juices à la the popular documentary “Crazy Sexy Cancer,” or cool zen buzz cuts circa the New York Times Health column “Life Interrupted,” or neat teenage parties as in the new Fox television series “The Red Band Society.” Sometimes, cancer is lying in pain in a bed and staring at the same ceiling for thirty days in a row. Unwashed. Emaciated. And bored. It is not revelatory. It is not glamorous. And you do not always have time to do it right. Oh, and if all you can bear to eat is Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, then that is what you will eat.

Still, despite the fact that I still can’t quite acquire perfection in the realm of cancer glory, this culture of survivorship exists for a reason. If I am honest, I feel comforted by the idea that I can drink a green juice to make my cancer disappear. That if I brush my skin somehow all of the little cancer particles will fly away. Maybe touching only the purest of materials can keep me safe. All of these things together are like being swaddled in a cocoon of protective information. Breathing the air around me might ultimately kill me, but drinking that last glass of reverse osmosis purified water is something that I can actually do. That the culture of cancer that I’ve described comes from a place of privilege and access is a problem. And it might not even be based in fact or figure. But there’s something about the feeling of partaking in the performance of the healthy girl, the cool healthy girl, that is ultimately incredibly satisfying.

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