Dark Clouds and Silver Linings

Lonesome.

A family friend (who survived stage 4 lung cancer) used that word in an email to me last week.  I feel as though my emotions and thoughts have been swirling chaotically around inside of me for the past two weeks.  Hearing the words, “You have cancer.” shook me.  As someone who is usually able to articulate my feelings (and articulate them and articulate them and articulate them…) I suddenly felt weighed down with the uncertainty of what to say.  Of how to describe how I felt.  When I read that one word, it was as though all of the other words in the email disintegrated, falling away and leaving that word stamped in my mind.

Yes.  That is exactly how I have been feeling.

Lonesome.

When I told my husband, parents and in-laws the news about my cancer their reactions were all confusing to me.  Everyone seemed upbeat. 

You can do this!  Okay, it could be worse!  This is curable!  You’ll be fine!

There were no tears, no visible sadness, no anger.  And nobody asking me how I felt about it.  Just constant reminders to Stay positive!

You know when someone tells you to “Calm down!” when you aren’t even acting angry (ahem, yet)?  Yeah, that is what it feels like when you are told you have cancer and you actually are trying to handle it in a healthy way and still all anyone wants to tell you is to stay positive.

To be fair, it isn’t even just my immediate family repeating the ‘It’s a good cancer! You’re lucky! Be positive!’ mantra.  I hear it pretty frequently.

Yeah, there’s a lot of face smacking going on in your mind’s eye as you force a smile and nod and say, “I know!” but are thinking, “Oh, great, so you’ll take it then?  Here!  Have on with it! Fun times ahead!”

As I’ve had some time to absorb it all myself, as well as think about how those closest to me might feel, I have come to terms with all of it much more.  I now understand that many of the people who love me the most maybe couldn’t allow themselves to think the worst.  Or thought that ‘being strong’ for me was what I needed.  That if they asked how I was feeling and it made me open up and fall apart, they would crumble right along side of me.   I figured out that the closer people are to me, the more this diagnosis happened to them also, not just to me.

I get it.

It is also true that the odds are in my favor with this type of cancer.  It isn’t crazy to hope that surgery will be my full treatment.  If that’s the case, I truly will be thankful.  And lucky.

But my only thought isn’t simply: Will I live or die?  I have to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for all possible outcomes, even if the chance is small.  If the cancer has spread, I will need nuclear iodine treatment (the form of radiation used to treat thyroid cancer), possibly more surgeries and possibly more rounds of radiation.  That level of radiation can make you infertile.  We had been hoping for baby number three.

And then there’s the vanity.  How will my scar heal?  Will I struggle with weight gain?  Will my skin and hair be drier?

Not to mention the things that are now changed for the rest of my life.  Every day I will take a thyroid hormone replacement pill.  I will have to see my Endocrinologist regularly, have blood drawn, and make sure my levels don’t need to be readjusted.   My eating habits need to change – unfortunately not in the direction of  ‘more chocolate, more pasta and more cheese.’

And I’ll always be looking over my shoulder.

The truth still remains that none of this is insurmountable.  There are millions and millions of people who have been dealt much worse cards than I.  Children dealt much worse cards than I.  In the grand scheme of things, I am a very, very fortunate human being.

But I want to be the one saying that I am lucky.  I don’t want you to tell me how lucky I am if you aren’t in my shoes.  That’s like when someone hits your car and then tells you the dent isn’t that bad and that it is fine.  Yeahhhhh, no.   You don’t get to tell me that my car damage is fine.

And you don’t get to tell me that I am lucky.  That’s my job.  And honestly, when other people are telling me that my cancer is ‘lucky’ or ‘good’ or ‘fine’ it just makes me feel the need to somehow defend myself and my feelings and the validity of what is happening to me.   Please let me have that.

You tell me it sucks.  And I get to tell you I will be okay and feel lucky.  Not the other way around.  Okay?

Not understanding other peoples’ reactions, not understanding my own.  Being confused by other peoples’ emotions and not knowing how to express my own.

It is a lonesome place to be.

So, I did what any ‘rational’ person would do and shared the news with the world.  Well, the world that I can reach, anyway.  Trust me, if CNBC had called for an interview I would have gladly obliged.  But I had to make do with the megaphones available to me: text, blog, facebook.

The truth is that I didn’t even shed any tears myself until I spoke to a friend on the phone.  A friend who I knew would be able to ask me how I felt.  A friend I knew would be able to share her sadness with me.  That day, I spoke to several friends on the phone.  I reached out to those who had been checking in on me throughout all of the testing and who I also knew would express their own anger, frustration and sadness, therefor letting me release my own.  I felt so much better.

Putting it out there on my corners of the social media world also helped.  It helped me know that I wasn’t insane to feel upset.   And it let me know that my safety net of support reaches much farther and wider than I realized.   I needed that comfort.

And then I discovered a silver lining to having cancer that I never expected: gifts.  Books arriving in the mail, roses, a silky, soft blanket from Nordstrom, an amazing gift basket made with care and all of my favorite things (wine, champagne, special chocolates, journals, quotes, face masks, tequila, truffle cheese, guinness cheese, French cheese…), Opus One, a bathrobe and mani/pedi (from my mama) and slippers that cost more than what I usually spend on shoes (from mah man).

Ummmmm, it’s not even Christmas yet.

So, yes, there are plenty of silver linings.  Not just the thoughtful and generous gifts, but the kind, kind words from so many people.  Plenty of times from people that I barely know, knew when I was seven, or even clashed with over the years.  It can be very surprising who comes out of the woodwork to offer support and who retreats when you were certain they would be by your side.  Although, overwhelmingly it has been the former.  I have had enough people tell me they would help with the boys that if I took them all up on it I could probably have free childcare for a year.   And I think I should be thankful that thyroid cancer is the only type of cancer that studies say actually improves with alcohol intake, since wine seems to be a favorite ‘Cancer Gift.’  (2012′s answer to the Push Present?)  One of the biggest gifts of all has been my family all offering to come stay with us before, during and after surgery to help take care of the boys so my husband can take care of me.  I know I spoke about how their reactions confused me, or even hurt at first, but ultimately, they have each found very strong ways to show their love and care for me.   I am extremely grateful for such a close, loving family who rushes to be by my side whenever I need it.  And for a husband who would do anything in the world for me.

And kids who give hugs and kisses like it’s going out of style.

My surgery is January 4th and I will be spending the next month enjoying holiday parties with friends, attending Christmas shows with my family, cheating more often than I should on my new cancer-fighting eating regime,  finally learning how to properly do (play? perform?) a dreidel, dancing (a lot), and singing Christmas tunes…to my neighbors’ chagrin.  That also means cancer won’t be the main topic on this blog, as it has been of late.  So I wanted to take a moment to truly, truly thank anyone who has reached out, written an email, called, left a comment, sent something, thought of me, sent me positive vibes, prayed for me or done any of the above for my family.   No, this isn’t the worst thing in the world but it still stinks and it is still scary, so your thoughtfulness has meant so much.

I think I am pushing out of the dark clouds for now.  The silver linings that have been given to me are helping me do that.

So, thank you.

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12 Responses to Dark Clouds and Silver Linings

  1. Anonymous says:

    AMEN! Couldn’t agree more with everything you wrote on here about how people react to the news of cancer. A roommate of mine has a form of leukemia where nothing about his lifestyle changes at all except that he has to take a pill every day for the rest of his life. It has maybe a .01% chance of effecting (affecting? still don’t know when to use which one) his life expectancy. For whatever reason none of my friends afford him an ounce of sympathy, not that that’s what he needs, but even go as far as to make fun of him for it in ways that are truly meant jokingly but are downright cruel. I personally don’t have cancer but my family has been touched by the damn thing more than once and no matter how big or small it’s something that commands both fear and respect (please don’t misinterpret as me telling you to be afraid). I had a point, or so I thought, when I started writing this. I think more than anything all I’m trying to say is I get it and I appreciate you putting it into more eloquent words than myself.

    I will continue my admiration for your courage and openness and keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Mr. Will says:

    Cancer is complicated. Yeah, you are suppose to be upbeat and positive, and at the same time feel and express your feelings. Feelings that aren’t particularly upbeat. So, you do both. It is f..king cancer after all. I feel for you being on this uncertain roller coaster. Ten years ago I had blader cancer surgery and at times felt emotionally whipsawed. You have an awesome support group. Use it.
    BTW….I have a pair of slippers exactly like your new ones. Mine are now mostly depreciated. Purchased in 1983, and worn regularly(except during the hot months) though 2010.

  3. Julie says:

    Love the robe you chose. It is You!!

  4. Jester Queen says:

    I’ll be thinking of you and sending good thoughts. We had a good friend go through a round of uterine cancer, followed by TWO bouts of breast cancer. She’s still with us and still awesome. (Don’t worry – the next line is NOT ‘so you can DO this’. I DID read!!) When she was first diagnosed, I kept asking how she was doing, and finally she said, “Jessie, there are other people I need to ask that. I need YOU to be my sense of humor.” And given a role, I could totally do that. I suspect that the people saying “stay positive” just have no idea what to say. They aren’t really telling YOU to stay positive at all, even though they may think they are. They’re really talking out loud to themselves, saying “Stay positive, support her”, and not realizing that what you need is an open ear right now.

  5. Anonymous,

    Thank you for your admiration, thoughts and prayers…and for taking the time to comment and share on here.

    It really is a strange thing, people judging another person’s experience. It is hurtful and frankly, weird. Who would ever want that done to them??? So why do it to someone else. Especially if you have never been through it.

    Anyway, I really appreciate you sharing and I also appreciate your support. :)

  6. Mr. Will,

    Complicated. Yes, that is for sure.

    I had no idea you had bladder cancer. Happy you have been in remission for so long.

    And happy to know I can expect my slippers to last so long. ;)

    xoxo

  7. Julie -

    You think so? Awesome. I think it is super, duper beautiful. :)

    xoxo

  8. Jester Queen,

    Thank you for paying close attention to what I was expressing! ;) Yes, I am learning that people don’t know what to say and are never intentionally hurting or offending me. And that if I really have strong, specific needs from a particular person, it is my responsibility to let them know. It sounds like your friend figured that out also. :)

    I am so happy you’re here and really appreciate your comment and support!

  9. Julie says:

    We all have to face our own mortality alone. Sounds like you have been given that
    Painful gift early in life. People in war or other extreme physical circumstances know these
    Feelings, too. I do not diminish your fear and pain but I do think
    Your already giving and sharing personality can only grow once you
    Make this passage, and I am confident you will pass through it.
    We all love you, annie.

  10. Thank you, Julie. All of that is so true. I am really am giving and sharing.

    Kidding.

    It really is true that we have to face our mortality on our own and even if we *think* we have, it takes something life-threatening to truly do so.

    Thank you for your depth and love.

  11. Michael says:

    Yes, reaction….not to your blog. I’m talking about the same thing your are. The reaction to those terrifying words “you have cancer”. I experienced this, but only as a witness. A witness with a front row seat. If you’re a witness…a husband, you must be strong and show only strength. (yeah, strength…a simple enough word) Because after all, the person you will be caring for is depending on you, and if you can’t be strong, how the hell are they supposed to be. So…as you said in your blog, folks (including family) really must say… be strong, stay POSITIVE! We need to say it’s gonna be fine. (for us) To make you feel better (good luck with that), we must say, “if your gonna have Cancer, this is the one to have”. Feeling better yet? Reaction. Well let’s face, many of suck at reaction even when cancer is NOT involved.
    My reaction, so many years ago….was probably not much better. “We’re gonna beat this’. Read… research…, every kind of investigation available on earth is done. After a year and a half, I finally reacted appropriately. I cried uncontrollably. For the first time, I felt the anger , pain and frustration of the f-ing word cancer.
    So your reaction to our reaction is fair. There are some very frightening words in our vocabulary and cancer is at the top of the list. But now I must revert back to the the words that frustrate you so, because I am family and I love you, and I love your family. Here I go. You will be okay, and you are so strong and determined. (I didn’t actually say strength) And we will be there for you and the boys. And we will celebrate Christmas and New Years Eve together this year, and next year, and the one after that, and many more after that one. You will take your Thyroid medicine, and you will wash it down with wine. You will hug and kiss your children for many years to come, and you will do the same for us. Is it fair for me tell you that all this will happen, and that you need to stay strong. Hell yes it is. It’s not only fair, it’s our job….as family. xoxoxo

  12. Oh Michael, You made me cry. I know you went through this to the worst degree. I know everyone reacts differently, everyone handles their feelings differently, everyone copes differently. I also understand that doesn’t mean anyone has less love or isn’t scared in some way. And I especially have figured out that it doesn’t mean people don’t care.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, to write such a heartfelt response and for being a loving constant in our lives.
    I can’t wait for family, champagne (or pickle backs?) ;) , dancing and laughter!
    xoxoxox

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