Remission society and mourning my fantasy future

I apologies to those who read all my blogs, as I am cross posting this. I’d love to hear answers from the various readers of my different blogs.

I want to connect two ideas: the idea of remission society as described by Arthur Frank (1995), and the concept of the fantasy future that I learned while on a cancer care retreat at Commonweal (February 2015).

Frank (1995) explains that anyone with a chronic illness lives in the remission society. Frank (1995) describes how “in modernist thought people are well or sick. Sickness and wellness shift definitively as to which is foreground and which is background at any given moment. In the remission society the foreground and background of sickness and health constantly shade into each other” (p.9). I interpret this as the way in which I shall never not be a cancer survivor. Breast cancer is a sickness that will always be part of my identity, regardless of how healthy I am at any given moment. It also will always affect my wellness. I will never be well in the same way I was well before cancer. I may be in remission, where I am not sick but nor am I well. I think of remission as this space in-between, or perhaps above or below, not on the same axis as the well or sick dichotomy.

In order to deal with my emotional wellness, I needed to address the loss of my place in the well category in the well or sick dichotomy. While in active treatment, I was clearly in the sick category; however, once chemotherapy and surgery where done, and the last of the known cancer was removed from my body, I was no longer in the sick category, but also was not in the well category. I was in remission. It was learning of the falseness of this dichotomy that helped me move beyond it. During a group therapy session, the therapist made a reference to the idea of a fantasy future. That is, the concept that all futures are a form of fantasy. We imagine what our future life might entail (e.g. growing old together, remaining in perfect health), but the reality of life is never what we had imagined. A big part of my emotional healing was to forgive my body for the loss of my fantasy future.

Another part of this reality, and one that I’m still working on, is that it should help me focus more on the present. What is in the now, and the short term future, rather than the long term future. This is, in theory, to help reduce anxiety today, but focusing on today rather than focusing on the uncertainties of tomorrow. However, this of course causes the problem I describe in my paradoxical future. Where I struggle with the challenging balance between planning for the future and seizing the day.

Perhaps that is in part what it means to be in the remission society (as opposed to being sick)? When I was clearly sick, my focus was on a very short timespan. I saw life on very short horizons – tomorrow, next week, next month – never more than three months. I just couldn’t plan that far in advance. But now, after I have mostly healed from chemotherapy and surgery (I say mostly, because some of the damage will never be healed), I see the potential for those horizons. It is because I see them only as potential and not concrete that I run into the paradox. Sure anyone who is well will say that they don’t see the future in concrete terms, but in the scale between potential and concrete, a well person sees the future a lot more concretely and someone who is sick, who only has a sense of potential for the future. In this world of remission society, I’m somewhere in the paradoxical middle. Afraid to have a fantasy future, because I got burned by that idea.

Do you have a fantasy future? How concrete is your sense of future?

Feature image CC0 via MaxPixel.

  • Becky


  • My fantasy future died somewhere along the path of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. At age 59 pre diagnosis I was considering going back to university and entering a 3 year program for a masters degree. it now seems an insurmountable future to go into massive debt and spend 3 years of an unknown lifespan pursuing a dream I might not get to fruition. I now live in a paradox of grieving my immediate past (treatment) and my future. It is an odd new world I am learning to navigate.

    • As an academic I totally appreciate the massive debt to go back to school, but it also sad not to have the opportunity to study something you want to study. That being said, there is a lot of free stuff out there now, so there are other ways to gain that knowledge without going into debt. I like how you express it as “an odd new world” … because truly, it is odd.

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