Posts Tagged ‘positive attitude

21
May
10

Is Talking to a Person With Cancer Really That Hard?

I read an article the other day that was written by a woman who has been through breast cancer, and a recurrence of breast cancer.

The impression I came away with is that there is nothing you can say to a cancer patient that is going to go over well.

For heaven’s sake, don’t talk to them about how they look – if you think they’re looking poorly, don’t let on, because you’re likely to get “Well, of course, I have cancer, so I’m not going to be looking my best”; but if you complement them on how well they’re looking, they’re going to be upset, as if they think you don’t believe they have cancer “Well, thank you, but I feel like crap on the inside”.

Whatever you do, don’t mention either survivors or non-survivors – non-survivors remind them where they might be headed, and survivors remind them that they might not make it.

And who cares about what you’re feeling about them having cancer? Are you devastated to know your friend has cancer? Well, suck it up, because those cancer patients don’t have time to worry about you, there’s only room in there for what they’re feeling.

And don’t bother to send flowers or cards if all you want is acknowledgment of your kindness and generosity – cancer patients can’t make that kind of effort to say thank you for it.

Aargh!

Can you tell that this article rather set me off?

I’m sure that at least some of the author’s experiences warranted the kind of selfish, cruel responses she advocates, but were most people really being stupid as well as well-meaning? Probably not. I myself have run into a couple instances where someone deserved a cut, which I mostly avoided by responding kindly to their intended nastiness; but it was with people I didn’t know well, and at least one was a competing cancer patient who felt I was getting too much attention, and her not enough. I seriously doubt whether the people that this author writes about really were trying for glory by giving her flowers, or karma by telling her that they were so upset by her news that they were having trouble sleeping.

I have experienced the “Pity Eyes” the author refers to, but usually only from people who don’t know me well enough, or aren’t comfortable enough with mortality that they have no idea what to say to someone who’s just announced that they have cancer (for the xth time, even). There are times when those looks make me feel like the “Already Dead Julie”, but usually I handle them the same way that I handle the more confident people who express their shock/sadness/grief that I am back in the cancer saddle; with a smile and a thank you for the heartfelt wishes.

Because even those people who try to make me feel better by talking about how well I’m looking (and currently, other than being very bald and very tired, I *do* look pretty well), or who remark on how tired I look some days, have an unwritten text of “I hope you’re feeling well, and if there is anything I can do to help, just let me know.”

And the people that I have to comfort about me having cancer? They remind me how much I’m loved and cared about – anyone who is getting a hug from me is also giving me a hug.

How sad to live in a world where you perceive everyone in it for what they can get out of it – I know there are people like that in the world, but I guess I’ve made the choice not to surround myself with such people, but with people who are genuine and caring, even if they don’t always know what to say. No doubt the author definitely had some unpleasant experiences, some of which were brought on by jerks; but I suspect at least some of the bad experiences were driven by her own perceptions of what she thought they meant.

Being a cancer patient can be an all-consuming lifestyle, especially when you can’t just go driving somewhere whenever you want. But even if it is more of your life than you want it to be, you’re still human, and it doesn’t remove the basics of etiquette from your list of how to treat people. Is someone being a jerk? Feel free to let them know it. Is someone being awkward in expressing their feelings about you having cancer? Give them a break and take the behind-the-scenes message of “I care, but I don’t know how to act or what to say” to heart. Having cancer doesn’t give you the right to be less than human; or give you the privilege of taking your anger out on some poor unsuspecting sympathizer.

But if you are in it just for the glory, I’m sure there is someone out there who will be glad to let you have a ride on their cancer wagon ;-}

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01
Oct
08

October 1, 2008

Revisiting my post about optimism vs. pessimism, and the benefits of having a positive attitude:

I’ve been thinking about it since then, and what constitutes pessimism and optimism.

I ran across a blog post by Donna Trussell called Cancer Is So Limited? I Beg to Differ. I laughed out loud – she is a good writer with an acerbic sense of humor. I also thought “This is a very angry woman”. Reading later posts confirmed that in my mind.

Cancer makes you angry. Call it one of the stages of grief, call it a reaction to fear, call it stress releasing itself in emotion; anger it is. Cancer makes you feel a lot of emotions, most of which you’d rather not feel – fear, grief, anger, sadness, isolation, despair.

With Breast Cancer Awareness month upon us, you can’t turn your head without bumping your nose into pink products, billboards, news articles/videos, e-mails, and yes, blog posts, most touting the message to *do your self-exams!*. But even the media, for all that it wants to promote the “look at the pretty survivors, you can too!” idea, cuts the message with harsh ingredients, like the video I saw today on CNN.com called “Help for Cancer Victims”.

If that little word “victim” doesn’t make a cancer patient despair, then it will probably make them angry.

And this is the thing about optimism and pessimism – anger is not the opposite of hope. Both hope and anger are on the side of not being a victim. If you can’t feel warm and fuzzy about having cancer, get angry! Don’t let cancer victimize you, and don’t let the “positive attitude Nazis” victimize you either. You don’t have to feel positive feelings about getting cancer, fighting cancer, surviving cancer. All you have to do is get through it, and if getting angry helps, be angry.

It’s what you do with the anger, though, that counts. If you use it to focus on the fight, and on survival, anger can be a positive emotion and a positive force. If you use it to bludgeon the people who want to help you, then it might destroy you if the cancer doesn’t get you.

I can attest to cancer causing one to be angry – when I had my worst fears confirmed by the biopsy results this August, I was furious at the surgeon who didn’t get it all, at the doctors who decided I didn’t need radiation the first time, at the failure of the chemotherapy to kill off the remaining cancer cells, at having maimed my body for nothing.

But after allowing myself to feel the anger, the sense of unfairness, the “why me” (shit happens, that’s why), I chose to let go of these feelings, and focus on being me. I still don’t see the positive attitude that others perceive in me – I’m just living my life, rather than living my disease. The same things that made me laugh before make me laugh now; the things that touched my heart before touch my heart now; the things that made me angry before, well, some of them still make me angry, others I’m learning aren’t so important.

In her latest post, The Stupid Cancer Show, Trussell writes about the lies one hears as a cancer patient. One of the types of lies is “other cancer survivors lie to you”, which would also mean that they’re lying to themselves.

“Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Some of the people in my support group talk about how cancer turned their lives around – and I think they really believe it, rather than grasping at any frail straw that puts a positive spin on an extremely negative situation. I mean, they ought to know if they’re in a better place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Is it the best thing that ever happened to *me*?

No.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that it has made me re-evaluate priorities in my life, made me less inclined to take things for granted, helped me learn to connect with people better, and work to eliminate leftover destructive behaviors that I haven’t conquered yet. Will this last as I come out the other side of the Cancer Fun House? I certainly hope so, I plan on it, and I’m going to do my best to make it so. I feel sad that these positive changes took getting cancer to bring them on. If I were you, I’d just cut to the chase, make those life changes you keep thinking about, and skip the cancer.

And it definitely is not the best thing that ever happened to me – that, in one word, is Brian.

So I will continue to strive for the positive attitude spectrum, because it suits me, and who I want to be – not a shill of the cancer establishment, not a self-delusional cancer victim, not the me-with-cancer or the me-the-cancer-survivor, just me. That will no doubt include occasional bouts of anger, grief, and other negative emotions; but also laughter, joy, and love.

When I want to feel inspired and hopeful, I will visit Cancer Cannot Have Me.

When I need to come back to earth (or for a good laugh), I can always visit Donna Trussell or The Stupid Cancer Blog ;-}




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