A man in his sixties, contemplating his life choices, witnesses his life’s work grow into a majestic sprout; children, wife, and financial stability. The man craves more. “Ten more years” he says, “Maybe I will go to Paris, or Rome, or even finish that book I intended to write.” He goes around doing his business, checking on his son every now and then, enjoying a newspaper, until one day his wife finds him on the kitchen floor. Hours later, he and his wife are waiting in the reception after numerous tests and scans. They see the designated doctor approaching them with an impartial, yet slightly morbid look on his face. After an apology and a seemingly fake reassurance, the doctor utters the C word. No medical explanation required; we all know what cancer is. The doctor simply said it, no definitions, no reasons. “It’s cancer,” just a sentence that got the man acquainted with what he is up against, or what is up against him. The manner by which the doctor was uttering the word seemed as if he holds reverence and respective dread towards the disease, it has become an old rival to the doctor, or a harbinger to the man.
A few hours later, hundreds of miles away, the son picks up the phone. “Hello mum,” he says. From the other end of the line comes a desperate sob. Unable to speak, yet attempting to contain her wits, she tries to talk. “It’s your dad,” she says with a brief breakage of her emotional containment, and she begins to cry. The pauses between her words take seconds, but to him they pass ever so slowly. He keeps imagining what could have happened, wishing it was just something as mild as a fight. For a second, she pauses her sobbing, “It is cancer.”
Lapsing back between my intangible rows of recorded memories, I find at the prematurity of my life, fragmented perceivement of a large sum of books (Children books in particular). Books like Animal Farm by George Orwell, Stuart Little by E.B White, and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll; they all somehow intrigued me on a peculiar level which I at the time never fully fathomed. When I grew up, I understood that there is a shared tenet in all of those books: “Anthropomorphism,” according to the Oxford Dictionary, is attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.
As we gradually ascend through maturity and awareness, we realize the shared traits possessed by our various selves throughout our lifespan. One of these traits is personification (Simplified term for anthropomorphism), yet this trait is more prevailing during childhood; children tend to personify and analyze their surroundings through acquainting with them through their own human perspective. This tendency arises from the intangibility and fear of the unknown. Somehow we grow up to transcend this frequency of personification, yet the tendency, even if slight, still exists. As children, personification ameliorates our sense and emotion of understanding of an object or idea. That’s why children favor animals that talk, clouds that sing, and rabbits that keep track of time. As adults, however, the situation goes in a different emotional direction.
As adults, we personify unfamiliar dangers faced by our collective human experience. Cancer, as is the case, is one of those dangers. Seen from a narrative perspective one can see the similarity between the former child and present adult, in the sense that our personification as children differs greatly from when we come to maturity, yet it is ultimately the same tool of perceiving our surroundings, or aspects that we don’t fully understand. The man diagnosed with cancer immediately knew what being diagnosed with cancer clearly means. He might have even forgot what kind of cancer he had by the time he got home; he only knows it is cancer, thus taking it from the figurative and visual side; as a person or an entity that intentionally poisons and slowly ends you.
Putting aside the frightful nature of the disease, it becomes a personal interest to see how we as children use personification for the sake of joy and mystic perceivement, and how, as adults, we personify the unknown danger of cancer as a grim reaper waiting for us to falter into his clutching grip. Quotes like “Dear cancer, I hope one day you only become a zodiac sign”, directly show how we personify this disease. We can speculate what the son might’ve thought as soon as he heard the word. Maybe he couldn’t have helped but visualize an hourglass narrowing down to its last grains of sand, or even a black silhouette approaching his diagnosed father. This proves that cancer and its personification don’t just befall on the host it occupies, but also on its connections and relatives.
Cancer is not the only personified disease in our adulthood; through medieval literature, our ancestors perceived diseases like the bubonic plague as a figure of a man bringing death or even death himself. This pattern continues today with our personification of cancer as a distinct entity aside from its medical terms. This personification; however, could only be less needed with the belittling of cancer to our common flu, which in light of our modern medical prospect is very much likely.