Monday, January 21, 2008

Words of Encouragement, and Other Words

You expect when you tell people you have cancer, they will mainly be supportive and uplifting, but one or two people will probably tell you about how their sister's husband's aunt was sick for ages, and then, oh yeah, she died. Oh! But they know I'm not going to die, oh, whatever made them think of that story, they shouldn't have said that, oh dear! No, no, they know just lots of people who have made it, just like I'm going to. And I should call anytime I need something.

Okay, this hasn't happened to me yet. Most, if not all, my friends and acquaintances have been nothing but fabulous to me. Many, many messages of support, and "call me anytime, I mean it."

From a friend whose mother died recently:
I am devastated by your news. Having recently been involved with my mother's cancer treatment, I understand that it must be overwhelming to you. Even with the best of doctors, it seems impossible to form an accurate understanding of the disease and its treatment, so every decision must be made with far from perfect information, which leaves the next best consolation to be prayers to whatever it is that we might believe in …

From a friend whom I don't know all that well, but she has cancer, too: For days, for months, after I was diagnosed my emotions were a swirling cocktail of free-floating anxiety; equal parts shock, grief, and disbelief shaken and stirred with a heaping helping of fear. … to keep from panicking at every turn, I ultimately decided to just take things as they came, one day at a time and stopped worrying about the long-term. It was easier to wake up and concentrate on what I had to or wanted to do that single day, then to let my mind wander to what tomorrow would be like. But that's me. What worked for me my not be what works for you.

From the one of the two oldest friends I have whose mother and brother each died of prolonged illnesses: Another thing to consider (if not already in place): personal therapy for you during this whole process (chemo, etc). You cannot and should not go through any of this alone. Your family and friends who love you no doubt comprise the fabric of your support group, but having a professional therapist to vent with/to can be invaluable.

From the other oldest friend: his mother's phone numbers (she went through chemo this year herself) and a phone call, which he ended with "I love you." "Sure, you'll see a thousand statistics, etc., but the truth is that most folks survive this, and I know that you will, too." he wrote me.

From a sewing pal: I have not experienced what you are going through, but I understand about needing time to cry and scream at the heavens. If you need to talk, or cry, or just scream, you can always call or write.

From a SXSW friend (hell, no "SXSW" modifier needed): I care about you. I feel shitty that you're sick and you have to look out for everyone else's feelings.

From Spike (no real reason to keep her identity secret!): All I can think to say for now is HOLY FUCK. And WOW that REALLY SUCKS.

Later, she suggested "divorcing" my cancer, as she had done with a toxic relationship with a person, as part of her suggestion to keep a journal: I used a real legal form. If you want, I'll see if I have my blank divorce papers and you can divorce your cancer.

That's why it's critical to remember the good things people say when someone sends you something like this:

Everyone deals with this crap in different ways; I don't talk to
very many people about this stuff b/c my approach is generally
considered harsh, even by people who haven't had cancer. Maybe not
harsh, but more realistic than most.

Wow, the real nitty gritty, eh? Cool. I hadn't talked to or emailed with anyone who'd had breast cancer at a young age, like me. Eagerly, I read on:

I guess I just think that the process, or project, of dealing with the medical
industry on a daily basis, combined with enduring all the of the
mumbo-jumbo survivor speak that has infiltrated our culture, I got a
little bit jaded, but also a little bit more alive, and more sure of
what kind of life I wanted to live. If I was going to be able to keep
on living, I would make some decisions about the things that improved
the quality of my life.

Okay, with you so far, for sure. Hardly anyone would get a cancer diagnosis, and then say, "Oh well, carry on." Specifics are hard to come by, though. What was at the top of this woman's list? I couldn't wait to know.

This did not include owning teddy bears wearing tiny t-shirts with pictures of tiny pink ribbons on them. It does include reminding people that these things are not important,
even if you were going to endure a potentially fatal disease, your dignity does not have to be compromised by clutching a teddy bear.

From my one of my best pals, and documentarian of the chemo haircut: Man, you'll have to let me know -- when you start chemo, do people start showing up at your house with big trucks of teddy bears or something?

Gentle reader, rest assured, I will totally tell those teddy bear delivery people to get fucked when they come to my door.


ms. p said...

You were right! You do have a nicely shaped head! I think the haircut is rad!

The blog is a great idea and I think could do more than help keep yer pals informed but could also serve as a source of comfort/empathy to others in the same situation. Nicely done.

Samantha said...

I LOVE the fact that you cut your hair. That cancer better watch out, that's all I've got to say.

grainyms said...


I'm thrilled you're doing this! Selfishly because I love your writing! But also because a blog on a subject/process like this can be profound for so many others. So go girl! I'll be reading.

All good thoughts,