The bond between cancer survivors is strong. That's why it's so hard when we lose each other
Some may find this post inappropriate, others may not. I thought it sums up (yet) another issue we all have to deal with.
‘I’m constantly worried about losing the people who best empathize with me, and when I’m not worried about them, I’m expected to worry about strangers, or about the possibility of a recurrence.’
I’m taking a weekend trip to Canada next month. While I’m there, I’m staying with my friend who has cancer. I was supposed to have lunch the other day with a writer I work with this week who canceled because of cancer. Last week, on my way to meeting my grandfather for dinner, I stopped en route to visit another friend with cancer.
There hasn’t suddenly been a sudden spike in US cancer cases – in fact, deaths have been dropping for decades. But fewer deaths mean more survivors – and longer survival times – and since my own cancer treatment nearly five years ago, I have found that the cancer veterans always manage to connect. I have yoga friends, writer friends and online friends who are also cancer friends. This is not by design, but it happens. And when a disproportionate number of friends and acquaintances have a life-threatening illness, the odds of avoiding grief aren’t in your favor.
Part and parcel of surviving cancer is knowing, and loving, far too many people who won’t be as lucky.
This makes some kind of sense: people go to support groups in the hope that those who share their experiences can empathize on a profound level. And anyone with experience close to major illness and trauma knows that there’s life before, and life after, and they’re pretty much skewed lines.
This may be especially true for cancer, which leaves a psychic scar that, inscrutable to the uninitiated, lingers years past the diagnosis and treatment. It’s all starker in the young adult cancer community – we’re often younger than our waiting room comrades by decades, our friends and lovers have little personal experience with confronting mortality, and we have to consider how treatment might impact fertility. That’s why I’ve gone to young adult cancer social outings, on a young adult cancer surfing trip, and it’s why I’ve been known to spend Breast Cancer Awareness month snarking with my online cancer pals, railing against the ubiquity of pink ribbons. What, from the outside, can look like a morbid fixation on death, excessive gallows humor and a lack of passion for quotidian happenings is, those on the inside know, just rejiggered priorities and lingering trauma.
Many of us get a lifelong sentence of scans and doctor visits. Civilians have a strange urge to relate every single cancer tale they stumble across, as though we all want to hear about other people’s cancer woes all the time once we’ve had it. So I’m constantly worried about losing the people who best empathize with me, and when I’m not worried about them, I’m expected to worry about strangers, or about the possibility of a recurrence. I feel trapped in some pink hamster-wheel cancer hell greased with heartbreak. And there’s no exit.
But there’s a flip side to the grief cycle of survivorship: everyone who gets sicker instead of better needs empathy more than I don’t need pain, because I’m the lucky one – I’m healthy, and I’ve had wonderful, caring friends encouraging me the whole time, including people I’ve only known digitally, and people who live far away. Returning the love is the least I can do. But it’s hard to explain this cumulative, ongoing anguish to non-cancer folks, who don’t necessarily understand the stakes of the whack-a-mole game we’re all playing from our first moments on Earth. And honestly, the longer it takes people to develop that empathy, the more peaceful their lives will be, so I don’t hold it against them.
So we carry each other in our parallel cancerverse. And if fellow travellers die, it becomes my responsibility to live for them, too. So while living with impending sorrow can make it tempting to decide that nothing matters, that’s no longer my call. I experience joy and love and ice cream not just for myself, now, but for Cait, and Jody, and for Karen. As their cancers advanced, all of them continued to support and reassure me about my own far more trivial anxieties.
On days it’s just too hard to live for myself, I go on for them.
Link to original article
- All Discussion Boards
- 6 CSN Information
- 6 Welcome to CSN
- 120.8K Cancer specific
- 2.8K Anal Cancer
- 440 Bladder Cancer
- 305 Bone Cancers
- 1.6K Brain Cancer
- 28.4K Breast Cancer
- 388 Childhood Cancers
- 27.8K Colorectal Cancer
- 4.6K Esophageal Cancer
- 1.1K Gynecological Cancers (other than ovarian and uterine)
- 12.8K Head and Neck Cancer
- 6.3K Kidney Cancer
- 660 Leukemia
- 779 Liver Cancer
- 4.1K Lung Cancer
- 5K Lymphoma (Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin)
- 233 Multiple Myeloma
- 7.1K Ovarian Cancer
- 48 Pancreatic Cancer
- 485 Peritoneal Cancer
- 5.2K Prostate Cancer
- 1.2K Rare and Other Cancers
- 531 Sarcoma
- 706 Skin Cancer
- 643 Stomach Cancer
- 190 Testicular Cancer
- 1.5K Thyroid Cancer
- 5.8K Uterine/Endometrial Cancer
- 6.3K Other Discussion Boards