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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Getting "The Face" and the Need for Formal Cancer Etiquette

Since my diagnosis, I have been the recipient of The Face on several occasions.

I have tried to imitate "The Face" here:

In my experience, not much content comes with The Face. Maybe a little, awwww-poor-baby sort of mewlings, but basically, it's just The Face - and what do you do with just a face? Really? So what I end up doing is making a comment like, "What are you gonna do?" or "You gotta do what you gotta do?" Still the face continues to just look at me. I end up just walking away.

I think that this happens because, despite the great numbers of people with cancer today, we as a society, have not kept up with creating standard appropriate and helpful social responses to people who have really scary diseases. As a result, you get things like The Face or (worse) weird, nonsensical, unhelpful, sometimes-insensitive comments / suggestions/ wisdoms. 

Sometimes it's easy to get a little honked off when, after revealing to friends that you have cancer, you receive a response like, "Yeah. My dog died of cancer. Cancer sucks," or "My uncle died of that kind of cancer. He got cancer and was dead in two months." But I think that, at least after a while, most of us realize that these comments (and The Face) come from well-meaning people who are uncomfortable about illness and ignorant about how to respond. Also, there's probably some self-importance in here, but I digress.

The best advice that I can give to someone who is at a loss about how to respond when someone with a cancer diagnosis is keep it simple. Don't offer diet advice or talk about alternative treatments in Mexico. Don't share cancer stories that had bad endings - or happy endings for that matter. Also, don't avoid the subject. Try to imaging how you would want someone to respond to you if you were the one with the diagnosis. Comments like, "I heard about your diagnosis. I was so sorry to hear about it. How are you feeling?" "Please let me know how I can help" (only offer this if you mean it). "I'm thinking/praying about/for you." These are simple and kind statements that focus on the ill person instead of any advice or cleverness, and lets them know simply that you care. In my experience, this goes a long way and gives significant comfort and some relief.

Or, rather, let us be more simple and less vain.” ― Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Beloved.

Four years ago today, my husband and I were married at the Cook County Courthouse in downtown Chicago.

Both of us had one marriage and several long-term relationships under our belt. Married too young to people with whom we had little in common except for geographical location, our past relationships had operated from a goodly amount of emotion, drama and sometimes violence.

When we met at school in 2004, we were both very tired of that sort of thing and found it refreshing that our attraction was not founded on sex, or scandal or romantic drama, but a pairing of the minds. He’s a philosopher. I’m a sociologist. We had many interesting things to talk about.

Our relationship moved along with little effort. It was easy. We got along. Neither of us had to be more or less that what and who we were. It was so good, in fact, that we used to tease one another that, sooner or later, some bad mojo was going to come and sweep one of us away.

And so it happened.

On October 4, 2010, I called him from my sports doctors office, crying, saying, “They think I have cancer. It’s in my bones.”

It’s the stuff bad Lifetime movies are made of – but this is real.

Since that day, he’s become part of my larger family. Getting to know my parents and siblings, becoming friends with my sister’s husband, my children and their partners, and warming up to the idea of being a grandpa without ever having been a father. He delights in my (our) children’s successes and winces and becomes frustrated at their challenges. He sometimes offers quiet advice and suggestions. He’s sincerely intrigued with the psychology of our developing and growing grandchildren

With this latest cancer recurrence, He knows that he comes one step closer to becoming my caretaker. Although he feels unequipped for such an undertaking, he is ready to do whatever is necessary, including helping me recognize when enough is enough when it comes to treatments.

After my death, he’ll become the one who will see to my honest memorial. It will become his duty to help my children and grandchildren remember who I was, reminding them of what they meant to me, and helping them figure out what I meant to them. He will be around to help make decisions and parse out money for their secondary education that I will leave in trust for them.

Each anniversary reminds us that “Till death do us part” will come far too early for both of us. But until that day, we continue to move along with little effort, allowing each other to be exactly who and what we are, and having many interesting things to talk about.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Convalescence and Escaping Cancer

Lower Harbor, Marquette, MI
I like the word 'convalescence'. Something about it is more warm and comforting than the words, 'recuperation' or 'recovery'. The word 'convalescence' swirls with soft blankets and warm soup and fuzzy slippers.

Originally, I was just going to stay at home after surgery, hang out, watch movies, nothing special. Then The Bickster asked what I thought about going to Marquette while I was 'convalescing'. Knowing that this would not be our usual U.P. trip of tent camping and back-trails hiking, I hesitated. Being surrounded by all of those temptations and not being able to partake might be too frustrating. But after some discussion about having a different kind of vacation - one just enjoying rest and relaxation in a beautiful natural setting, I decided that it sounded like a pretty good idea. I hopped online and booked a room at the Days Inn for seven days and yesterday, we flew the coop.

There is something else to getting away after this surgery other than having a nice place to heal. There is this faint idea that I can escape my cancer, if only for seven days. Seven days of not thinking about the treatments that lie ahead. Seven days of not thinking about possible suffering and premature death. Seven days over which I have a modicum of control. Seven days.

Realistically, I can't entirely escape my cancer while I'm here. Still plenty of reminders - the pain from surgery, plenty of pills to take, and the oppressive constipation that comes from surgical anesthesia and pain medication that, believe you me, can turn anybody into one bitter pill. But something about putting distance between me and those who treat me makes me feel more free from my cancer.

Now that we are here and settled in, I'm starting to relax, body and mind. I've got several distracting yet mellowness-inducing projects to work on including:

  1. several knitting projects including a winter hat for #1 and baby blanket for Ginger #4
  2. recording a book for Ginger #2
  3. reading #3 & #4 Flavia de Luce mystery novels
  4. sketching
  5. awesome used bookstore tour (six in the area!)
  6. Enjoying the nature of this place and the company of my oh-so-lovely husband and wacky lab.

Comfort comes in small slices for people with stage IV cancers. For me, my small slice of comfort today is that for these seven days, I have decided to be cancer free.

(Ugh. That feels so pathetic. Sigh...)