This is the next installment in my series of pet peeves about breast cancer…
We have things that people say that grind our gears. I have heard it all.
I’m a warrior.
I’ll beat this.
Chemo isn’t that bad.
I just have to push through it.
There isn’t much lingering pain.
And my favorite, “I’m fine.”
In the past three years I have watched thousands of women journey from diagnosis through treatment, and into the aftermath. It is a journey full of ups and downs, pain and elation, and grief and acceptance. It is like being on a roller-coaster, and just as the train is pulling back into the station to end the ride, the machinery speeds back up and rockets you back for another whirl. Over and over again.
I see a pretty similar pattern. The bewilderment of diagnosis. The overwhelming period of treatment decisions. The determination that comes with the commencement of surgery, chemo, and radiation. And the hope that comes as treatment is completed. It has the essence of the plot of a fiction novel. And it is about as true.
Once we overcome the initial shock, the only means to cope is to go into Super Woman mode. We are warriors who will kick the crap out of cancer. We can do it all – work, families, home, cancer treatment. But it’s fine, we will get through it all, we will be cured, and life will be normal. We minimize our pain and mental anguish to our friends and family because we want to be seen as strong, and we don’t want to ask for help. Or even admit that we are flailing. Badly.
So we tell everyone that we are ok. Maybe a little tired. But we got this.
And this is the biggest disservice that we can do for all of our pink sisters, past and present. Because the average person has no idea what having cancer is like. So they expect that we can handle it like a champ. This is why we get comments like, “My mother’s best friend’s sister’s landlord’s former hairdresser didn’t have to leave work, or lose her hair, or get sick from chemo, or have chronic anxiety, or have long-term side effects.”
Umm… yes, she did. I guarantee it.
But she is telling everyone that everything is ok and having her mental breakdowns in private. And so the next woman comes along and thinks that she too must buy into the warrior mentality and not admit the truth about the pain.
I remember watching a woman in my support group from the time she was diagnosed. She was confident and strong. She brushed off the initial pain and suffering. Even as she started admitting to the group that she was beginning to struggle, she was still posting only positive updates on her own personal page. And yet, she has been deeply affected. She has numerous long term side effects, and hurts for the way her life has changed. But I doubt that most of her acquaintances understand that because she still falls back on, “I’m fine.” And so the fiction perpetuates.
We need to be honest with everyone. Yes, my body hurts constantly. Yes, my brain feels like scrambled eggs most days. Yes, I have insomnia that is downright painful. Yes, I have anxiety that is paralyzing almost daily. I don’t say these things to complain, I do it to promote understanding of why I may not seem cheery somedays. Or why I may be snappy. Why I am too tired to go anywhere. Or at times even talk. I also try to educate so that if someone else in your life is diagnosed, you will know to look beyond the superficial “I’m ok” or ” I’m fine”. Don’t ask how she is, ask how you can help her to feel better. She may not need anything, but for many of us, it is liberating to just know that someone acknowledges our pain, even years later.
Let’s not make breast cancer worse than it already is. Let’s work together so we can all find our own measure of peace.
See www.driventosurvive.org for ideas, resources, and support while on your breast cancer journey.