Friday, April 16, 2010

Ironic Facebook Status: "April is Cancer Month."

Reflecting on what this lump may or may not be, I've been thinking about the thyroid cancer I had a number of years ago. Thyroid cancer is weird - doctors call it the "good cancer." Riiiight. Kind of like the "clean break" of a bone or the "mild heart attack, " yet another euphemism designed to allow a person to distance themselves from the reality of the situation - that their body is broken. It may be a temporary situation, but at the moment, when you receive that type of news, things ain't going the way they're supposed to go. And I've come to learn that nothing clears a room faster than the word cancer. Or, as my dear friend called it, the "C-word."

Why can't we talk about illness and death? And, no, I don't think I'm dying yet. :) If death is a part of life, why is it so cloaked with shadows and only talked about in whispers? I've always been pretty liberal about what I share in life and of my life, but I remember, during that time, feeling that no one wanted to talk about what was going on. At least not with me directly. I didn't have the emotional energy to invest in what was going on with the people around me, but I definitely felt...kind of alone.

I know that I am not easy to care for - not because I don't prompt feelings of tenderness, but because I really don't have much experience in being taken care of. Blame my mother if you want, but, I've done the therapy and am finished with that. I take care of people - my family, the students and faculty, the guests at the restaurant, it is what I do. And enjoy doing, but....

If I have a situation here, some sort of cancer, no matter how "good," I'm milking this one. I want to be taken care of a little bit, I think. I don't only mean thoughtful donations of soup or baked goods, I mean, I don't want anyone to run away from me. Cancer isn't contagious. Even though I feel too much a novice to call myself a "cancer survivor, " the truth is I am, and it's placed me in a special club; the best possible cancer outcome club. And maybe I was inducted to point out that every month is cancer month for someone, somewhere. And it's okay to talk about it.


  1. Very through provoking blog. So much I want to share with you but just can't seem to find the correct words at the moment. However, I do relate exactly to what you are feeling. Not on the cancer level and not on the personal level, but you know, on the E & J stuff. Serious illness is a tough concept for people to discuss. My feelings are that until people have experience with short term or long term illness personally, whether it be themselves or a loved one, they do not know how to talk about it. I do not find illness or death a difficult topic to discuss at all, in fact, I find death is a very natural part of life. Of course, death at a young age is much more painful to accept than death at a ripe old age. Even then, death is sad, but I found comfort in my father's death because he had a long life, he had his turn to experience it all. Young death is not pleasant, too much left to do and see.
    I don't know if I am making sense or if I want to make sense. I think I am just sharing my perspective on your thoughts. As far as feeling alone, you are not alone in your feelings of feeling alone (purposely intended to be a bit of a run on). From my experience, unfortunately, when people are seriously ill or E & J are seriously ill, I have felt very alone. It is because we are alone. If and when you did have cancer, you were the only one who had it at that time, from your circle of friends and family. Do you honestly feel that people were avoiding you or maybe they thought you needed rest, or maybe they thought other people were checking in on you and didn't want to overwhelm you? Just some food for thought. I think that when you are ill, people are concerned about you, yet they are too afraid to overwhelm the ill at home. When my children are ill or in the hospital, I just want to scream out "Call me, keep me sane, keep me company, I need this or that". Though, just like you, I was raised as a care giver and that is fine with me. I prefer to take care of people than be taken care of. Yet, at this age, I am beginning to crack. I am beginning to tire of some of my old habits that I grew into and now, I want to be taken care of. I want people by my side for support. Illness is a vague topic. Illness is an uncommon topic. I firmly believe from experience that talking about illness and death is a learned behavior. Learned through experience. So, you and I can talk about illness and death with comfort, but unless you have personally experienced it or dealt with it in a relatively close manner, to me, you are consider "inexperienced" in that department and therefore, unable to assist, even the best of friends. You have gone through the experience of cancer once and that bout of cancer taught you much more than you probably cared to learn. However, you did learn what yout needs are and if you do have cancer again, you need to voice those needs. I know it would be great if it came to your door willingly, but if it doesn't, you need to let the people that you want around you to know that. Don't hesitate to speak up and say "I need you to call me ever other day so I can talk to you about my cancer because I enjoy talking to you". It is a win/win situation. You will have your needs met by the people you want around you and those people will learn about cancer and illness while supporting you through your recovery. Speak out !! Voice your needs !! Let people take care of YOU this time and enjoy it !! Communicate it and you will all come out of this, once again, but with more emotional knowledge than the first time.

  2. Again-- I'm with you and are here for you if you ever need to pick up the phone and talk or bitch or whine or wine or cry. I love you!
    Thank you for expressing this so beautifully. It's so true. When Patty was so sick we were asked -- always quietly-- how [ital] are you? Nice that people are asking, but in strange voices. Not liike they should scream from the rooftops, but people ARE scared.
    I'm very grateful right now for one couple, dear old friends here now, who sent a beautiful card with stuttering expressions of We love you, we're here for you, this sucks. Then they called us, made a plan for dinner (that INCLUDED Jamie, and thoughtfully, and actually got it on the calendar. They didn't run from us; they coddled us and spoiled us rotten and we needed the humanity! xoxo

  3. Wow, Beth. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings and experiences with me. I love your attitude about your Dad, especially since I know how much you miss him. I so appreciate your expressing yourself here. And always let me know how I can help. You & James (and E & J) handle your challenges with the ultimate grace.

  4. I read this whole thing and felt compelled to comment but I can't seem to find the right words. You've posted a good reminder. I think sometimes when stuff like this comes up it's not that people want to run away from the sickness or the sick person, it's that we feel so inadequate in the face of something that's so scary and instead of just being there we want to pretend that it doesn't exist or that you (in general) don't/can't be bothered with us anyway. Understandably so.

    I think for me, I've not wanted to be the person that says the stupid thing and made the person feel so much worse and instead I've come across as not caring. (Can you tell I've had issues with this?) Really, I care but feel so damn helpless.
    For those of us who are caretakers sometimes that can be harder than anything, just not being able to care for and make better the people we love.