Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wait, There's More!

I was talking with a good friend today (Hi John! And yeah, that's a BC photo) and I realized there's one more tip I'd give to a newly diagnosed breast cancer person. So, I'm adding to my list.

#9: Enjoy the perspective. Now, I know, that's almost "up with people" touchy-feely. But hang on, I'll get bitchy in a moment. See, here's the thing-- cancer is kind of a big deal. I mean, I have pretty much tried to go about life as normally as possible, and I've been not so bad at that (it's my low bar, but hey, I can usually clear it!), but even with me every once in awhile I do stop and think "Holy crap!! Cancer!! The Big C!!" Which also means, I think, that occasionally friends and family would also stop and say "Holy crap! Teresa has cancer! I should, like, call." This doesn't seem unreasonable. So here's where the perspective comes in-- I've been amazed at how much some people care and how continually supportive and kind folks have been. Some honest to god surprises from all corners--friends, family, acquaintances now friends, and total strangers. And then....wait for it....there are people who I would have thought cared who right now don't know if the cancer has metastazized to every organ I have and I'm in my last 48 hours of life or if I even survived surgery or if I was totally kidding when I said I had cancer. They don't know because they don't call, they don't write, they don't send flowers.... And, okay, I'm pretty cynical, but I can still be shocked by that. But eventually I came to this revelation....hey, those people weren't really friends were they?? Duh! So that's baggage that's been all cleared out. Think of it...I don't have to even send a Christmas card! How can they be irritated with me? How can I be the "bad" friend? I can't!! I had cancer!!! (Cancer wins!!!). Other relationships come into focus a bit too. If someone doesn't have much time for you when you're battling cancer....ummmm...when will they have time? I even got unexpected closure with my ex-husband. Unexpected because I didn't know I needed it. But when he gave me his incredibly crappy response to the cancer news (see January 25th posting; or just read the fine print on instructions to use of a household cleaning product for equivalent emotional experience) and I got to post it on the blog for all the world to see (okay, the 8 people reading that day)--hey, now that's closure!! So yeah, enjoy the perspective. During chemo, you don't have the energy to actually clean house (okay, I don't ever have that kind of energy), but you can do a little psychological/ emotional housecleaning. We take the silver linings where we find them.

So that brings me to the other item I'd add:

#10: You kinda gotta tell people. Alright, you dont' have to have a public blog with all the gory details (although, I promise, I've left out many gory details), and this is just my opinion (hah!! there I go!) but if you aren't telling your friends and family what's going on, you're missing out on a significant silver lining to this whole chemo nightmare-- seeing how much people care! (Um, yeah, or don't...but there's a benefit there too. You know, the part where you save on Christmas card postage.) Okay, let's be honest, what I mean is you get to get spoiled a little bit! A lot of people seem surprised that I'm still working, or going out, or dining out, or any of the things I manage to do (and again, let's be clear, I have to cancel occasionally too). For me though, I want to keep things as normal as I can and if I'm hanging out with friends, working, at a networking event, whatever (but with wine), I'm getting to just be me. Not Cancer Me. Plus, people are so easily impressed just by my showing up! And I don't think I've had to pick up a lunch or dinner tab in months. This can't be bad.

As we know (see photos on sidebar if you are unclear), I also didn't try to hide the whole "It's a wig!!" thing. I like having the different looks and I change them out quite a bit. My original thought was that I'd get the red wig as my "standard" look. I thought then that people would just say 'Wow you dyed your hair red!" instead of "Wow you are so clearly wearing a wig." And that's worked...for about 3 seconds. Because I immediately respond with "Well, it's not really my hair." And I explain that I had "the cancer" and am in chemo. Yeah, I'm not good with secrets. Or privacy, apparently. I realize this approach wouldn't work for everyone, but I can say that everyone has been extremely kind about it and it's a relief to just let people know what's going on. I adjust, other people adjust. And it's over. I don't have to worry about it anymore. It sort of spreads the burden a bit. Wait...did I just spread the cancer burden? Okay, well, in a good way. Somehow.

Breast cancer is, sadly, quite a normal thing these days. There isn't any reason to hide it. I can't imagine exerting the kind of energy it would take to hide this or not talk about it. Too much changes to be able to keep it all private. I'd be exhausted trying not to look different or heck, I'd just be exhausted trying not to look exhausted! (Okay, right, I'm lazy. More power too you if you have that kind of energy and that's what you need to do for you. Certainly, do that. Just consider another option. You might be surprised.)

10 is a nice round "top ten" sort of number thing, so I'll stop here. Unless I learn something on a par with baking soda and water for things you really must know for chemo-coping.

I'll just end here by telling you I felt pretty good today. Good enough for another cheeseburger and fries (Wendy's this time. Why am I not losing weight during chemo??? why????). I even went for a little walk with Chris and Seamus. But I'm not even going to pretend that tomorrow will be another good day. I think we all know what happens when I launch into crazy talk like that.


  1. Hey, Teresa - those folks you haven't heard from since they learned you have cancer? It doesn't necessarily mean they don't care or that they aren't your friends - just that they are the type of friends who cannot reach out during crises.

    (Of course we've all had those "friends" who disappear when suddenly you need help instead of always being there for them. Those aren't friends and never were.)

    My brother loves me dearly and would do anything I asked him to - when I had a broken foot and had to transport myself and 4 dogs to Vermont he drove me there and himself back to Tennessee in a rental car nonstop in a 24-hour period. But the key is "ask," which took me a while to learn.

    Some years back I had a horrible crisis and had thought he would offer to help - instead he virtually disappeared. It took me a while to realize that the crisis affected him so much that was all he could do: think emotional turtle. I realize now if I had said clearly I need you to drive over here immediately with a chainsaw and cleaning supplies and help me pack up this house, he would have done it in a heartbeat. But he simply could not reach out.

    Some of us are expressive empathetic types who can pour out our feelings and know just when to show up on your doorstep - others are emotional turtles who simply can't. It just isn't in their DNA. It doesn't necessarily mean that they don't love and care about you.

    I can handle a few emotional turtles in my life - especially when they are willing to drive me 1,000 miles on a weekend with 240 pounds worth of dogs. If I ask.

  2. Emotional Turtle!! I like that. And I will consider that (even though it means being less snarky!). Although in one case in particular, I'm pretty sure it's not a case of emotional turtlism. It's pretty clearly a friendship that had been on life support. And cancer killed it.

    by the way, I also really like the "get over here with a chainsaw and help me pack up this house" as a metaphor for my experience currently. I'm going to start calling friends and saying exactly that!

  3. I'm so happy to know I'll be on your Christmas Card list. Wooo Wooo!

  4. It looks as though you aren't going to remain epiphany-less after all.

  5. Well spoken,well written.Hard lessons to learn on top of the scare and treatment of cancer. I wish I had been more open and less prideful and less withdrawn. Many people were a disappointment as you mentioned and others came to the forefont. Painful to learn who you could and could not count on when the chips are down. Really hurts the feelings. I favor the axium "living well is the best revenge" if do-able. Stay strong--

  6. Now don't be threatening me with epiphanies...I have cancer! ;-)
    I suppose there is a fine line between epiphany and perspective. The later is perhaps more gradual.

    Helga--I will keep that in mind. All the living well I can handle!


  7. Now, where do I find a chainsaw?


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