It's the first Friday of the month, and that means GUEST BLOGGER! I am loving reading other people's perspectives, their feelings, their experiences with their cancer and how it effects their daily life. When I received this article, I immediately started reading it aloud to Dan. We were both floored by her candidness, and her ability to get us chuckling in one minute, then nodding our heads in agreement, then cringing. Her writing is organic and true, and I love it. I'm very grateful to Anonymous and Lone Wolf for participating in the Guest Blog Series.
Jess, the guest column idea looks like a good one. I was completely absorbed by Lone Wolf’s description of her experiences, partly because she writes well but mostly because she writes well about shared experiences.
Take the “tell your friends or not” issue. When I was diagnosed, I wanted to keep a low profile but it seemed to be hard for my family and against the advice I was getting from the experts. “Let your friends in,” one writer urged. “Keeping a serious illness under wraps is like trying to keep a beach ball underwater,” another noted. True enough.
I ended up writing about my diagnosis and sending installments via email. Of course, once you start that, everybody knows – and they want to know more. Human nature is well-intentioned but it didn’t take me long to cringe at the eventually predictable conversations. Me: “Hey, how’re you doing?” Friend, “No the question is how are YOU doing?” There’s a certain look in the eye. It sets me apart. It makes me feel somehow targeted whether I feel like talking or not. Even whether I know who’s asking or not. Word gets around. Cancer is interesting. A grocery clerk at a local store invariably approaches me when I come in to ask how I’m doing. I have no idea who she is but I know the look and the sound of the voice. The cancer survivor has entered the store. (One of my sort-of friends announced at Market Place in a loud voice, “She’s a cancer survivor.” What gets into these people?)
I’m doing very well right now but this has been an ordeal. Chemotherapy and radiation are not fun and all of us who go through the treatments know the peculiar fear. What is this stuff doing to me? After-effects aren’t pleasant either, but all of it has been manageable and I feel good about life in general, that is until I get into another conversation with one of our relatives who likes to tell me, “I would never put that poison in my body.”
So far I am unfairly attacking my poor well-meaning friends/family but unfortunately there is no perfect formula for talking about cancer so I can’t adequately advise people when I would just like them to shut up. Just let me go back to being normal and benign. Try to forget everything I’ve told you.
I have always been a hypochondriac but I am now beyond belief. Remember Veda in “My Girl?” She was so afflicted that she thought she had prostate cancer. I am just about that bad. Currently I’m certain that I have breast cancer, tongue cancer, and brain cancer but I have not (yet) seen an oncologist about any of these. “Riddled” with cancer as I’ve heard it said. I am tempted to go hunting for symptoms but the Internet is a terrible place to look for information. If you look for fatalities caused by hang nails and acne, you will find them.
Then, too, sometimes the people who should know better, do not. I went to see a specialist in Bellingham about two weeks into this “journey” (“journey” is as popular as “survivor”) without realizing that she is a heartless witch. I asked for three things, a clear diagnosis, the options for treatment, and some hope. I got the first two but the third wasn’t in her repertoire. Instead of hope she gave me the odds – the odds against survival beyond a couple of years, the odds in favor of recurrence, the odds in favor of the grim reaper coming to call. I was stunned into silence – a rarity for me.
So…here I am, feeling good, feeling smarter, loving my family and some of my friends more than ever, looking forward to summer, and gaining inspiration from others. Some of them are celebrities. Joan Lunden appeared bald on the covers of magazines, Angelina Jolie has undertaken extremely brave measures to assess in advance any cancer that might be genetically ready to pounce, and Jennifer Griffin, a tv news analyst, diagnosed in 2009, has conquered triple negative breast cancer. These women and many others keep my optimism intact. True for my admiration for Jess too although she resists the pedestal.
Jennifer Griffin said this: “The problem is we all think we will live forever. Cancer stops you in your tracks and makes you think about how you want to live your life.” And that’s the truth.