Hot blooded, coldblooded, blue blooded, full blooded, bloodless, … it all seems to be in our blood. Our blood is the source of a human being’s vitality and identity. We have music in our blood, the characteristics of our ancestors, some of us seem to have evil in their blood. I have leukemia in my blood.
Cancer: that’s an ugly tumor growing somewhere which needs to be erased. You can localize and visualize the evil parts before cutting them out. One of the most confusing aspects of my diagnosis was the fact that leukemia seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I cannot get rid of my blood as easily as I could get rid of a breast, parts of my lung or skin. If I had a blood transfusion today, my bone marrow would reproduce mutated cells within a few days.
The bone marrow, a part of my body I had never consciously thought about before my diagnosis, is still a mystery to me. Idioms like “to be scraped down to the marrow of my bones” or “to believe something to the marrow of my bones” indicate that it is the very essence of ourselves, the epitome of our physical identity. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” said Henry David Thoreau. I suppose “life” does not have leukemia like me, so I will follow his advice and keep living, enjoying and sucking life’s marrow as long as I can.
Some people call our blood “the liquid organ”. It represents vitality itself, as blood is the element of divine life that functions within the human body. In religions and cultures all over the world, blood is hugely symbolic. Christians pretend to drink the blood of Christ during mass. Jews and Muslims are more restrictive – there are many taboos concerning blood. The bible says: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. “ This is extremely frightening. I am under the impression that suffering from leukemia could be a divine revenge.
The story of Perceval and the Holy Grail refers to the mystic and magic properties of blood and William Shakespeare`s famous play “Macbeth” is packed with references to blood as well. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” where blood is seen as a symbol of guilt and my favorite “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him” a quote I always have in mind my blood is getting drawn in a laboratory and I can see how capillary tube after capillary tube (often more than 20) fills with the red liquid.
In fairy tales, Snow White could be a potential idol. Blood is used for the description of her astonishing beauty. Nevertheless, Snow White lived once upon a time and I don’t believe she belongs to my generation. She will be forever young. Sleeping Beauty who sheds a drop of blood and sleeps a hundred years is someone I can relate to. It sounds very much like my fatigue. Of course, Dracula tales are a great source of inspiration. From my point of view, the blood sucking creatures are suffering from severe iron deficiency, just like me. Poor little vampires! One of the assistants in the laboratory where I get my blood analyzed wears a T-Shirt featuring Dracula’s face saying: “I want your blood”.
After my diagnosis, I tried to think about potential benefits of leukemia. Summer was approaching and I wondered whether mosquitos would stop biting me because of my disease. No, they didn´t. Actually, they are crazy about my mutated cells and bite me even more than before. I keep my eyes open for other benefits.
Being unable to pinpoint my type of cancer makes me feel uncomfortable. Having something as symbolic as my blood and my bone marrow contaminated, I sometimes see my vitality as fake and imagine myself as a kind of zombie. Throughout history and literature, blood has been associated with super powers. Unfortunately, I haven’t found my zombie super power yet, but I am still looking for it.