27 April 2010
The other day I had lunch with my friend Ellen. When I’m with her, the world always seems to be a better place for me, because she understands it all. Ellen and I live very parallel lives. She’s the mother of two daughters, she’s in the media business, AND she’s a nine-year survivor of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Ellen completely understands my Cancer World.
She understands the fear of a bad diagnosis, living with not so great chances for five-year survival, the pain and agony of another chemotherapy treatment. As one cancer survivor said, “This not a place you want to live, or visit or even pass through. It takes a special kind of brave.”
Over lunch, Ellen and I had just confessed a few things to one another.
First, that we’re not really into having pity parties for ourselves, even though we’ve had a few of our own during some pretty private moments. We reminisced about the first days following our diagnosis of Inflammatory Breast Cancer, when we discovered our chances for five-year survival, when we faced the terrible unknowns about the fight ahead. We remembered thinking that chemotherapy couldn't be as bad as what they say, and then finding out that nobody is excluded from the terrible side effect. But for the two of us, we have mostly had those pitiful moments alone.
Second, we also confess that even though this is some tough stuff, we prefer to spend time with people who make us laugh, give us positive juju, who help us get our cluttered minds off something other than cancer, chemo and the fight of our lives. We LOVE to be with people who recognize us for the smart women we still are, that want our advice and counsel and remember that our professional skills and talents are still inside of us. Even though we may be fighting cancer, we are more than just a cancer victim! We still have the right stuff.
After a wonderful lunch meeting, we were leaving the restaurant when a woman I know stopped me. Here is the total conversation:
Woman: “Are you having a new challenge in your life?”
Me: “Well, yes I am. I’m battling a little cancer right now.”
Woman: “I’m so sorry to hear that. What kind of cancer?”
Me: “I have breast cancer.”
Woman: “Oh goodness. That won’t be a problem. Everybody gets through breast cancer these days.”
HELLO?? DID YOU JUST REALLY SAY THAT TO ME? THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM? I HAVE CANCER, LADY! DID YOU HEAR ME – CANCER!! THE BIG C!!
Even though the death rates are declining, 40,000+ women in America will die from breast cancer this year. And even for those of us who don’t plan on dying, who are fighting like hell to beat this ugly disease, we are forced to fill our bodies with toxic chemicals that change our entire world. We lose our hair, even our eyelashes. We take pills every day that tackle nausea, fungus, diarrhea, depression and more. Our body weight is a roller coaster as we lose pounds from vomiting or the lack of eating, and then we gain a few more from the doctor-prescribed steroids following chemotherapy. We have a list a mile long of new rules of things to do and not do in our lives. We are forced to remove ourselves from large crowds, give up gardening, and eliminate other things in our lives that we love. With negative impacts to our joints and muscles, we hope that today is not the day that we’ll fall off the curb in front of others to see. We have countless doctor appointments and tests and infusion appointments, and some of us even spend days in the hospital battling raging fevers and infections in our bodies. We pass old friends and colleagues in restaurants and stores who don’t smile back because they don’t even recognize us anymore! And at the end of the day, we only hope that we will have the strength and stamina tomorrow so that we can attend our daughter’s graduation or a dear friend’s wedding.
THIS WON’T BE A PROBLEM?? When was the last time you battled cancer lady – any cancer? This is not your common cold or a stomach virus! THIS IS CANCER LADY!! AND ANY CANCER IS TOUGH STUFF!!
Okay – so I didn’t really say any of these things to her. But Ellen and I sure felt all of this inside our minds. But we were raised better; we were told by our mothers to always be polite, especially in public. As I stood there and listened to her, I was reminded of the mad lady at the McDonald’s restaurant in Kansas City who didn’t like her hamburger and was refused a refund.
Even though I proudly strive each day for the power of positive thinking, I’ve been thinking about her comments all day long. I never wanted to say all those things to her; she didn’t intend any harm. What I really had hoped for is that she might “get it.”
She reminded me of another friend I saw recently who said to me: “You’re a tough woman and you’re going to be fine.”
FINE?? I’M GOING TO BE FINE? WHO TOLD YOU THAT?? SINCE WHEN DID YOU BECOME MY DOCTOR?
So, what’s the fine line between NOT wanting a pity party versus wanting friends and acquaintances to understand? It has to be something between a doom and gloom attitude versus acting like I’ve got a bad case of the flu that will go away soon.
Maybe it’s this: Don’t try to diagnose me or predict my cancer future. Give me positive thoughts, acknowledge my resilience and strength, but also recognize the incredible challenges right now. Put your arms around me and just tell me you’re sorry and that you love me. You really don’t have to say much. Just let me know that you care.
In the communications business, we always ask ourselves, “What is the call to action?” Well, my call to action is to survive this cancer and LIVE for many years. That’s the plan. But in the meantime, THIS IS CANCER! THIS IS THE BIG LEAGUES! Just hold my hand, hug my neck, let me know that you care and help carry me through.
Thank you for letting me vent. I feel better now. I warned you . . .
Posted by Stacy Sells at 5:10 AM