Saturday, October 02, 2010

Things nobody tells you about having cancer...

Last cancerycancercancersons post for a while, I swear; I just can't get my head around nursey stuff at quarter-to-oh-shit in the morning today.

1. Nobody tells you about Sad Face, Oh-Isn't-She-Brave Face, and their corollaries.

Friend Lara and I were corresponding about this the other day: every person you tell you have cancer puts on a Face. It could be Sad Face, or the OISB Face, but there's a Face that goes with the diagnosis. I suppose it's a natural reaction; hell, if I had told me I had cancer, I would've looked pretty sad at the news. Still, you start steeling yourself for it.

Perhaps the best facial expression I've seen came from Ginny, the Highly Inappropriate Chaplain. She peered down at me from her tremendous height and squinted one eye and screwed up her mouth, and I started laughing so hard I could barely breathe.

2. The words, "You're so brave" and "You're so tough" get really old.

I know it's a compliment, and I know I should be thankful....but you know what? I'm not really all that brave. This is what it is, and I'm just putting one foot in front of the other, living in a state of combined denial and narration. Every test I have I'm scared to the teeth. I wake up in the middle of the night feeling a tightness in my neck and wonder if that's yet another lymph node. There is a little, quiet voice in the back of my mind that reminds me that I just might die if I'm incredibly unlucky.

I am not brave. You do what you have to do in this situation. You can only be po-mouthed about it for so long; then you realize that the dishes--even if you have cancer--are not going to do themselves, so you do them.

3. It does not go away.

Even for five minutes. I managed to forget, day before yesterday for a whole thirty seconds, that I have cancer. That's the best I've done in three weeks.

4. Discipline can go out the window, if you let it. This is bad.

Bottle of champagne and cheap-ass carnitas from the tamale cart for dinner? Sign me up! That's one reason I'm having a combined mental and physical health day off today. And believe me when I tell you that I woke up this morning and realized that yes, I might have cancer, but that doesn't give me license to treat my body like shit in the guise of making myself feel better.

It's understandable how some people go off the rails. Still, you can't spend every minute from diagnosis to cure running amok; never mind the ramifications for treatment, who wants to live hung over *and* with cancer? I'll take just the cancer, please, without the side of herk bleh.

5. You never realize how many friends you have until....

Friend Lara said, "Is it just me, or are you feeling huge amounts of love too?"

Yeah, I am. It's humbling as hell, you know? If I were to stand outside myself, I'm not sure I would like me very much--but then, I know all the nasty little linty, dark corners of my own soul. Apparently I hide them from other people well enough, or overcompensate for them well enough, that outsiders think I'm okay.

And the quality of your friends becomes apparent, too. Nurse Ames has been fantastic through all of this, as have Stoya and the Boss Man and Kiva and all the rest of the people I work with. Not everybody can drive me to and from appointments like Ames does; Stoya, for instance, is not a warm-fuzzy type. She still sends me texts, though, that say things like "How's yer trap?" and "Dead yet?" You need both kinds of friends when you're going through this, and I'm lucky to have them.

6. You're still an asshole, even if I have cancer.

If I couldn't find it within me to like you before, I am unlikely to change my opinion of you now that I have this diagnosis. See "Sanchez, Rick" and "Armey, Dick" for details.

7. I'm still an asshole, even if I have cancer.

And you know what? It's okay to call me on it. I've said before that being sick tends to make people more of what they are, down deep; sometimes, that means you're a bigger asshole than you ever were well. You can get mad at me, as Lara says; it's not going to break me or make me sicker. It's okay to treat me like a normal person. I am not Ma's little china lady on the shelf Pa carved back in the Big Woods.

And that is all for now. I'm going to go repair the damage to the kitchen that the Parkour Kitties did last night--Frog Himself only knows what they were chasing, but it must've been very exciting. Then yardwork and laundry and reading something interesting and shopping for a small television (no, the world's not ending) with DVD player and maybe a shower later.

I'm going to have a nice, uncancery day today.


Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Sounds like a reasonable Saturday to me, JO. TOY.

Crazed Nitwit said...

Love number 6!! Snickers.

Moose said...

"You're so brave" crap is a pet peeve of many people with long-term or chronic illness. "Oh, you are so brave, I could never handle things like you do."

I never could put my finger on why it bothered me until I read a post from someone pointing out that it's "othering" -- it is a way for the speaker to separate you out from the crowd to either put you on a pedestal or think "At least this isn't happening to me!"

A lot of seemingly well-intentioned things are really "othering". People who say, "At least you don't have (Disease Perceived To Be Worse Than Whatever You Have)." People who insist on helping disabled people despite being told "I'm ok." People who tell you, "You must feel (whatever)!" [Must I?]


Stay strong, sister. When people tell you you must be brave or whatever, you could smile and tell them you're not. Or maybe that it's not any of their concern. Or whatever you feel is appropriate, because they're being INappropriate.

Anonymous said...

Great post, JO! And yeah, Dick Armey is the definitive asshole. Agreed.

clairesmum said...

There was a book out a while ago..something like

before enlightenment - carry water, chop wood

after enlightenment - carry water, chop wood

whether it is enlightenment or disaster - the sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west, etc....the ordinariness of life is what keeps us grounded, saves us from our neurotic and terrified parts.

appreciation of ordinariness and sense of humor - those are key parts of surviving life - no matter what is in your life.
enjoy the day.

Anonymous said...

On the "you're so brave, I don't know how you do it" front, if you come up with a good comeback that doesn't totally insult the person saying it, would you please post it? I've spent the 35 years since my child was diagnosed with a fatal genetic disease dealing with comments like that, and as you say, it's mostly one foot in front of the other just getting through the day. But how to say it tactfully has always escaped me.

RehabNurse said...


I thought of you when I saw this courtesy of Dr. Grumpy about the IgNobel awards. Hope you think about this the next time you've got the a*(hat on d/t cancer...

"Peace, for the finding that swearing does reduce pain: The study was actually limited to cold-induced pain, generated by having subjects stick their hands in icy water. One group was asked to repeat an unspecified curse; the remainder were given a mundane word to repeat. "Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing," conclude the authors. Not quite sure how that relates to peace, but good to know regardless. The lead author flew in from the UK to pick up his prize. " from

decemberbaby said...

Okay, normal person, I'm delurking to tell you that your posts make me laugh, in a good way...

But also, how exactly did Pa carve a china doll? I know he was multi-talented, but porcelain is not exactly a carving medium...

I will shut up the snark now.

messymimi said...

I like your Highly Inappropriate Chaplain. Also, yes, we know you have dark corners, all of us do. We like you anyway, even when you are too tired to hide them.

shrimplate said...

Paper plates?


Eileen said...

It wasn't the face it was the "special voice" my MIL always switched on for serious illness, death and the "dear departed"! And that for the rest of her life so anything up to 70 years later!

Biggest hurt - the people who crossed the road when they saw me. Of course - that might have been their true desire when they saw me anyway and not having to find something to say was the greatest excuse ever.

We should get on skype with a bottle of prosecco (small ones each, not to appear drunkards or anything ;-) ). I promise I don't do special voices (I hope anyway) or faces.

A toast to thumbing the nose at nasty things!
all the best, Eileen

bobbie said...

And life goes on...

Just remember ~ you are NOT your disease.

Still sending gentle healing light and comfort while you kick CA's ass...

Lurkette said...

Lurkette, back from a few cancer-y days of my own. (Got your e-mail =) thank you.) This is going to be another long post, I'm afraid, but I just identify so much with you, Jo.

I. Hate. The. Face. Cannot stand it. At one point I started asking very well-intentioned people who didn't deserve it if their dog died or something.

I can be a really funny old broad. Some of my stories have them rolling in the aisles. Some of my jokes stink. Please don't laugh at them if they aren't funny. Cancer did not take away my ability to laugh at myself, too. Feel free to tell me to keep my day job. Don't be nice to me just because I am "such a brave, courageous woman". I am neither of those things. I am putting one foot in front of the other because there is no other direction to go in.

That self-discipline thing is really important. When I got my diagnosis and had the bone metastasis confirmed, first thing I did? Went off my statins and started nuturing my inner carnivore and cheese lover. Bad career move, from the longevity point of view. My oncologist pointed out that my cancer wasn't killing me just at the moment, but those cholesterol levels sure would. I got smart.

I am a really take charge (bossy? me?) and independent woman. Sometimes since I've been living with cancer the whole there-ness of it, the always-there-ness of it, makes me so tired and weak and sometimes I'm afraid and sometimes I don't want to make any decisions. My best friends are the ones who know how to support me at those times and are happy when I can run on ahead at the stronger times.

Have you had the folks coming up and telling you *why* you have cancer? They always link it something I have or have not done. Talk about blaming the victim! I have been told I got cancer because I am too expressive with my emotions, because I bottle up my feelings, because I eat too much meat, too many vegetables, because I have secret sin in my life, because my parents were involved in the occult (wtf?). If this happens when I am in vulnerable mood, it just tears me down. Sometimes I cry. That's okay.

One iron rule I made for myself. Never play the cancer card. If I really need a break or some help I ask for it straight out, and I don't trot it out just to manipulate the situation. Jo, I'm sure you are a far better person than I, but I admit, I've been tempted to play it.

Forgetting about having cancer? Really, really hard while you're going through your initial treatment and the first year. After that, there are moments it is not in the front of my mind. This Christmas, I'll be celebrating my sixth orbit around the sun since diagnosis. How cool is that?

"Do you think she'll ever shut up?" The whisper runs through the blogosphere like wind through a field of lavander. Yes, I'm done. Glad to see you again, Jo.

Unknown said...

I swear, the next person who gives me "Oh Isn't She Brave Face" - they are getting my ridiculously silly troll face in return.

I like number 6. I have a stepsister who has treated me like garbage the last two years. When she found out about my boob cancer, sent me this short email saying "Kick it's ass." I didn't respond to the email or bad grammar. Just because I have cancer, it doesn't mean I'm going to start pretending to like anyone.

Anonymous said...

decemberbaby - Pa carved the shelf. Yeah.

Anonymous said...

I love your posts! My dad, who has inoperable stage 4 lung cancer, also appreciates your honesty and humor.

Ewa said...

Found your blog through Cranky Fitness. As a breast cancer fighter (hate the word 'victim') I can so relate to what you wrote. I've been diagnosed not that long ago (end of June) so I am still learning, but what a lesson that is.
Wish you quick recovery after the surgery. I wish you that your cancer goes away. I know it will take time but eventually it WILL go away.

terri c said...

Gah, I hate that you have cancer. Suckitude, shockitude. Am sending warm thoughts. Would send prayers if you like.

One of my teammates called me "the chaplain you can cuss in front of." I liked that a lot, but now I aspire to be a Highly Inappropriate Chaplain. It is good to have aspirations I think.

Elly Lou said...

Ugh. That face. That fucking face. Like a beagle puppy that just took a kick to the ribs.

You be just as selfish and as asshole as you need to be, buttercup. Because when you come through on the other side of this thing, you won't have to deal with all those assholes you offended while you were sick. Win - win. You know, relatively speaking.