Someone on Facebook asked ˜why is it that good people get cancer?". I answered that it isnt good people who get cancer, or bad people, that its just PEOPLE who get cancer. I added that animals get cancer, cats, dogs, horses, birds, fish. They get cancer whether they got distance healing, whether people prayed for them, whether they loved their mothers, whether they clicked their heals 3 times and spun according to their OCD compulsions or not. As someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), Polly is one of our child alters and one of 13 alters in my DID system. Shes grasped that we are 47, that shes an alter who got stuck being 3-5 and she understands shes in a body thats 47. Shes recently been coming to terms with the fact that body has breast cancer. She asked our husband, Chris, do monkeys get cancer? Chris said, yes, they do. She said she wanted to go to the zoo this weekend, before our appointment this Wednesday where we'll hear about treatment. So off we went.

We havent been to the zoo in years and Polly was excited. But once we saw a lion pacing like an emotionally disturbed person might, Addie, another of our alters. Addie is older, around 9-14, shes a serious, quiet, gentle, old fashioned, sombre alter. Shes a natural nurse and social worker type, kindly and self sacrificing and a deep love of animals and empathic distress if they are imprisoned, isolated, unhappy or unwell.

Addie didnt want to be there, then she felt bad she was wrecking Pollys day by virtue of her arrival. She felt like a burden to both Polly and Chris (Addie has an Im a burden thing). So we went walking through the Japanese Garden instead and counseled Addie about the endangered species the zoo helps and how some of the animals here are almost extinct in the wild and if not for zoos and their captive breeding and re-release programs. We also counseled Addie about the role zoos have in helping the public understand, familiarise and hopefully then come to care more about wild animals and the things we can do to preserve their habitats like avoiding palm oil products and wood products from old growth forests and buying recycled paper products including toilet paper.

But Pollys reason for visiting the monkeys was not that of a 5 year old just wanting a day at the zoo after a week facing cancer. Polly wanted to look face to face with the monkeys, reminding herself that they were not good monkeys, not bad monkeys, just monkeys, that some of those monkeys could get cancer like her. And she needed to remind herself that that didnt mean she had to do rituals or compulsions or magical thinking to undo the badness that had caused cancer to choose her, that cancer doesnt choose people, it it a matter of mathematics about genetics, immunity, environmental triggers. In that roll of the dice we had spent 47 years with immune deficiencies and had a 70% cancer rate on one side, a 30% rate on the other and had done our best to reduce environmental triggers, address mental health issues, reach a good place emotionally. Polly would have to do something new. Instead of investing in magical thinking and rituals to undo the badness or close it out, shed have to walk along with us. Shes have to trust our teams medical team, and, no matter where it takes us, be part of facing, even sometimes embracing, the challenging journey that cancer brought to our door.

Donna Williams, BA Hons, Dip Ed.
Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.
Autism consultant and public speaker.