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.
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.