I could write scores of pages on why I hate the whole "fight cancer with hope" thing, but it's still a trigger for me, and I know the vitriol which calls those words from me isn't natural — or at least, I don't want to make it a permanent part of me. So I have avoided blogging about it, and for the most part, I've stopped baiting Lance Armstrong on Twitter.
Cancer burnt Gavin and me, but lying about it and pretending he wasn't mortal were what broke our marriage apart as I prepared to lose him, alone, while he dreamed of miracles.
My feelings about this dance, four years later, overlie and conceal true pain, which I would love to deny, but which I must own if I am to be human.
But I come upon people with cancer, and they're all different: both the cancers and the people. Their string of eternal hope is often visible, and looks so dangerous to me, but I'm not a doctor. My story matters, but I'm a jerk to walk around with a cape that tells people my husband died from it (it doesn't quite say that, but one can imagine). This is true whether they're "internet friends" or "real friends."
These humans with cancer have to manage their lives and their information and their emotions any way they can. I know, because Gavin and I did it nimbly, brilliantly for nearly two years after he received his terminal diagnosis. Real people need hope, and who am I to say how they should receive it or balance it? Who's to even say that Gavin and I did anything "wrong" while lying to ourselves? Just because we got to hospice too late, doesn't mean my intervention, tactless as it usually is, will get someone into the right hands sooner.
But I still bear the weight, and I'm saying it even without a word. And I'm pulled so hard to intervene, to share, to, I wish!, help them avoid my particular doom. It draws me so hard, in fact, that the message is painful to get out, and it's never "right." I'm left stammering, my force gone, sad and unsure with all my triggers set off and the lamest "I'm sorry… how are you doing?" on my once-strident lips.
I was like this when I first met Susan Niebuhr, founder of Mothers with Cancer, at BlogHer09 at Kate Inglis' panel. She saw my mourning/superhero cape, I saw her lymphedema sleeve. We danced without causing each other, I think, any real damage. We were both brave enough to keep in touch; Last year she cheered me on when I announced I'd finally prepared a will.
But I finally did something right in, of all the small things, a blog comment. Susan's doctor gave her some new information, and she asked her readers how to talk it all when she wasn't even sure how she felt about it. (It was a long time ago... did I ever mention I'm a slow blogger?)
For once, for her, my message walked out of me in a loving, non-triggery way. I told my truth without hostility. I tried to account for all her possibilities. I tried to limit my story to the parts I know, the ones I can testify about, and still not lose the parts that I can't prove, like the hurt and fear. I tried to take the shame out of it and hint at what it might be like to be her loving family. I wanted her to know I take her fight — and her choices as a writer — seriously:
And then I held my breath. Later that day, Susan responded.
Personally, I want to hear you as honest as you can be. The struggle to be brave and positive was extremely oppressive to me when my husband was sick, and we were parenting our infant/toddler.
As a mom, I know there's a balance of hope and courage that's necessary, but I also know that children can handle more feelings than most of us think and often, provide us with new and helpful perspective. They can't do this when we're "putting on a good front," so much, and we wouldn't hear it anyway.
Being honest makes it easier to be calm. There is a calm kind of fear, too.
I'm not your husband, but when I was the wife of a patient taking Nexavar (post clinical trial but pre-market) (Nexavar reduced his tumors 75%+, BTW!), I would have preferred him showing me that I could be honest and share my fears. Instead, we both grew apart showing the wrong face to each other as well as to the world.
Yes, I would say this even if he had lived. I have relived those last months many times and that's when the damage was done: living with the strain of being "brave" and thus, being separate. I absolutely would say this even if he had lived.
As a blogger, I know that what we show isn't always the whole story, and that voice is your choice. Those who connect with you outside will respect your decision, your difference, if you choose that.
YOU ARE LOVED. And I don't feel your story is anywhere NEAR over.
Thank you. I needed to hear this. And I think I needed to hear this from you.And I cried with relief, because I made a difference. For once.