Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cancer Sucks

So, the thing is, I'm a cancer survivor.  As a little kid, I had bone cancer, which ultimately resulted in the amputation of my left leg, at the knee.  I finished chemo 18 years ago yesterday, and - Deo gratias - have been cancer-free and long-term-side-effects-free ever since. 

But the other thing is, I don't often know how to talk about this.  It's the sort of thing that there's just never any good time to bring up, with anyone.  It's the kind of thing that you don't just want to lay out there too early in a relationship of any sort, and yet, if you never mention it, at a certain point it's more awkward, and almost too late to bring it up. 

Also, there's no good way for anyone to ask about it, especially because I pretty much only ever wear long pants.  "What's wrong with your leg?  Why do you trip up stairs?  Or skip down them?"  "Um, it was amputated.  When I had cancer.  When I was 10 years old."  "Oh."  And then the person feels embarrassed for bringing it up and ends up saying something stupid like, "I never even noticed." (Obviously you did, Skippy, or you wouldn't have brought it up.  But I digress.)  And then I feel awkward for making you feel embarrassed.  Like it's my fault.  Which it's not, but it sort of feels like it. 

And I think that's really the crux of the matter.  Objectively, I know that there is nothing I did that caused my cancer.  And yet, I feel like it represents some sort of moral failure on my part.  Like I have to constantly apologize for my medical history.  Like it presents an inconvenience to the rest of the world.  Like I have to keep it hidden and not talk about it and act like it's not a big deal, because if other people found out, they would realize what a failure I am and not want anything to do with me. 

I have no idea where these feelings come from - rationally, I know that they are irrational, and I express them here not to incite pity or sympathy, but because it's my blog, and I need to talk about this stuff for my own mental well-being.  (This is probably something I should have explored in CPE, but I was too busy having to help my supervisor deal with the fact that she hates Lutherans.)

Of late, I've tried to be better about just putting this info out there - in, for example, my internship applications, and my "member profile" during a short-lived, ill-conceived venture into online dating, and my pre-arrival, written introduction to my internship congregation. 

I was actually inspired in this regard by an acquaintance at school who, on perhaps the second time we met, informed me that she was a recovering alcoholic.  I was a little taken aback, because I felt like she was sharing some personal information with me, someone she didn't know all that well (and the info was entirely irrelevant to the situation at hand). 

But I realized later that it's a decent strategy because, as awkward as it is in that moment, then it's done and over with, everyone's cards are on the table, and we can all move forward.  And then months or years later, no one feels like this big important thing has been hidden from them, and you don't feel like you're expending all this energy to keep it hidden, and you don't question what is going to happen when so-and-so finds out.  Are they going to stop being friends with you because it's weird?  Are they going to be mad that you haven't told them before now?  Are they going to decide that it's more drama than they want in a friendship?  Etc... 

Ugh.  This sucks.

UPDATE: I should add: I don't feel this way about other cancer survivors or patients.  If someone told me that they are a cancer patient or survivor, I would never assign any moral value to that whatsoever.  Cancer just happens.  To way too many people.  And I have compassion for the people that it happens to.  'Cause I know what it's like.  So why do I place that moral disvalue on myself?

1 comment:

Lutheran Chronicle said...

Having an old friend give me surprising medical history after years of not knowing, my reaction would be: shock that I didn't know, respect that you're a tough son of a gun and a survivor, and a feeling of closeness having found out.

Giving personal info like that to someone is a mini gift of self revelation -- you shouldn't feel obligated to give it to anyone, and normal people will receive it positively as a sign of trust and friendship.

It's funny that you might subconsciously consider cancer a moral failure, when most people I know consider a story of cancer survival an admirable and uplifting thing!

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