05 March 2010

Telling Hurt More Than Hearing

It was bad enough to hear that I had cancer. But it's worse to have to tell others about it. The prospect of "sharing" my cancer was the last thing I wanted to do. I was arrested by a slew of emotions that almost muted me.

First, I felt immense guilt -- guilt that I had let my nearest and dearest down, particularly my children, parents and siblings. Had I made better choices in my life, I wouldn't have to be telling them about this bad news and therefore causing them pain and worry. Cancer was my fault and the burden was on me to sort it out, not theirs.

There was also a lot of anger at myself because I thought I had failed my children. How dare I put them in this position! They're young adults just on the verge of starting their own lives. But, with my cancer, they were going to be noosed with caring for a very sick mother. What a burden to give them! Parents are supposed to set their children free, not hold them back. Never mind living with the threat of losing one's mother. No child deserves that. Shame on me! I would have done anything to spare them all that pain of that fear. Anything!

No parent wants to survive their children. Neither does a parent ever want to see their children suffering. This was nothing that my 77-year-old mother, living thousands of miles away from me, should have endured. Certainly, once she heard about my illness, I knew that the only thing she would have wanted to do was run to my side and care for me, without regard to her own health limitations. But, alas! She was incapable of doing that. What torture for her!

Then, there was the feeling of being damaged and somehow inadequate causing me to feel sorry for myself. And because I already did, I wanted no one else to feel sorry for me, especially not my healthy, vibrant and very lively friends and family. One drop of "I'm sorry," and I would have lost all form composure and a never-ending pity party would have ensued (no cover charge at the door!). No thanks. What I wanted was to still be seen as "normal" and not someone sick with cancer. But if I told, then...

Last, there's also the "sensationalism" of cancer. It's not as if I just had this hang nail or my appendix removed. It was that I had cancer, the "killer!" And for an introverted person like me, the prospect of being attached to such a sensational disease as cancer was unsavory. "So and so has cancer!!" And then one becomes a spectacle (sort of like the bottle neck at the highway when there's an accident). I just couldn't stand the thought of the all the fussing and the gawking.

This was true particularly at work. I thought that if my workplace knew I had cancer, it would be disruptive. I didn't want anyone asking or checking on me. You know those folks who wouldn't even give you the time of day and then suddenly they're all over you because you have cancer? I didn't want that. Business as usual, folks. Please move on, nothing to see here. Go back to your desks.

If I had my way, I would've just "disappeared" for the 6 months of planned chemo treatment and not told anyone; then re-appeared later, as if nothing had happened. [Sure, why not? Pigs have wings, right?] But of course, the reality was that I was going nowhere for no time. And I had to face up to the fact that I couldn't keep my illness to myself. In the end, the chips fell where they did and most of my fears were not unfounded.

But even now, a year hence, I still feel the same as I did then. I still want to have spared my family (especially my children) and loved ones the pain of cancer. I still resent the spectacle that is cancer. And even though I fought the good fight and am in now remission, I still can't help but feel damaged and inadequate sometimes.

But, no matter. Here I am today -- still telling. Because the hope is that in the telling, someone else's pain might be alleviated.


WhiteStone said...

I shared many of these same emotions. And if I could, I would have gone through it without telling anyone. However...am I misreading your first paragraph, the one about guilt...that cancer was your "fault"? I hope you are not blaming yourself for ovca. I can't think of anything I did that could be attributed as a cause for cancer. So are you describing it as if you "felt" guilty? rather than true guilt?

In regards to your blog overall, I admire the honesty of your writing.

ce_squared said...

Thank you for your kind comments, WhiteStone!

To address the "guilt" issue, yes. You're right. They were feelings of guilt. That those feelings were mixed with so many other feelings, I felt like a stew of emotions. And that's what they all were -- emotions. Some may have been unfounded and some may have basis. But no, I didn't think I was guilty of anything so that cancer was some sort of punishment.

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