Wednesday, October 30, 2013


There is danger in optimism.  If you have a disease, particularly one that has visited more than once, people look to you as a baseline for anyone/everyone else they meet with the same disease; regardless of diagnosis.
If you look too upbeat or 'like normal', many will assume that their neighbor should look the same. We are not all the same, our lives are so vastly different, there is just no way to compare one persons reaction to diagnosis/treatment/recovery to another.  Very recently, I was told that I was told that I was "too positive a person" about cancer.  At first, I was taken aback; but then realized that the patient who said that is struggling with issues I can't understand.  We are at different levels of acceptance, pain management, discourse.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my weekly doctor visits included a) my oncologist and b) my ob/gyn.  Being pregnant was an additional tweak to the diagnosis, but not to my life.  This little fella inside was a good reason to fight on, and every day I woke up was reason enough to celebrate.

It is this joy that gives me pause when relating to others.  I've learned not to chime in when I hear pregnant women bemoan morning sickness, although in my head I say things like "Sister, please. Try morning sickness with a chemo chaser." I also try not to interject when my fellow cancer patients are detailing their woes - my situation doesn't compare.  They might not be pregnant, but I had amazing friends surrounding me.  A family that loved me every day, a worldwide group of church friends praying for me, a roof over my head, decent insurance, a reliable vehicle, a doctor that is the best in the universe.  I had a difficult journey, but had so many other things that many people don't get to have -  I chose to focus only on the good stuff.

Which is where the danger comes in.  I try to find the good in every situation, in every person (even the hard ones), and try to highlight that, not focusing on the bad.  When I'm introduced to a newly diagnosed person, I do all I can to encourage and uplift; but I do share the tough stuff, too.  I've made list of things they will need during chemo, radiation, post surgery, etc.  I do this not to scare them with hard facts, but because I've learned the hard way about what is helpful and I want to make it easier for them. 

My journey was, and continues to be, an intensely difficult situation.  It's impossible to explain what bone pain feels like, for example, so I chose to only talk about that with other people who share a similar diagnosis.  That doesn't mean that don't constantly have bone pain, I just opt not to talk about it. I don't feel that I am hiding the horrible side effect of my treatment, I just don't think it serves any purpose to tell people. I had surgeries, new tumors, more medicine, the works - but each have resulted in what I choose to see as success.  I'm still here, after all, aren't I?

When I am interviewed, serve as a keynote speaker or panelist, I adjust my message for the audience.  Oncology groups want, need and can handle all the details I can pour out.  A ladies group at a church tea, however, might not want to know about nipple reconstruction.   So, yes, I will continue to be that 'cancer gal who is funny and optimistic' (actual title once given to me at a speaking engagment. to my great delight.)  Not because bad stuff isn't happening every single day.

But because good stuff is happening as well.

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