Cancer Reactions

Posted: 29 December 2012 in Cancer, Understanding Others
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Prostate Cancer Cell

Got cancer? People’s responses are varied and fascinating. I have detected several variants. If you have more, please add a comment.

  • The Silent, or near silent. They stare at you. Mute. Not knowing what to say. Duh – I am not a lorry at night and they are not rabbits in the road. Yes, I’ve had a few of those. “It’s not catchy you know” I want to say.
  • The Ghosts. I’ve had “ghosts”, people who are acquaintances, who disappear from sight. I don’t bump into them anymore. There are often reasons for this, say they have lost a loved one to cancer, and just can’t bear going through another tale of treatments and topsy-turvy hopes. Cancer is not a plague. But in a way, it is a modern plague and people are fearful of it.

  • The “My Uncle” stories. Some will immediately tell their own cancer stories, usually about someone else! An uncle, a colleague at work. Someone else they know at church. It is said as a substitute for saying “I know how you feel” when they don’t. In many cases it is defensive, it pushes the locus of conversation to someone not here. Not you-or-me, but an uncle far away, or a work colleague unknown to me. That said, within the many “My Uncle” stories, there is the truth that cancer is common. Cancer veterans are more numerous than you’d realise. And that you have joined a clandestine group by virtue of the disease. People do not feel comfortable talking about it, but now you’ve the clan, with these people – you can speak the hitherto unutterable “C” word.
  • The nosey parkers. Yes, there are those. They don’t ask me, but they ask my wife.  Sometimes in an oblique way. This might have put her in a difficult position, but I asked her simply to answer that if people want to know, they can simply ask me direct. That’s normally the end of it.
  • The How-Are-You-ers. How do you tell the how-are-you’s of the thoughtful carers from the “I’m a caring person and I ought to ask” ones?  Hunting for a quick summary on your life chances between the toilet rolls and feminine hygiene products in Isle 16. Or as they rush past for the 7.36 into town. Really!  If you want to know, give a little of time for an answer.
  • The Anxious Acquaintances. They listen to you and pick up your tone.  They want to empathise, but are uncertain how to react. They don’t want to be The Silent, nor Ghosts. You sound positive, they’ll be relieved. Sound worried or stressed, they’ll be worried but stumped what to say next.
  • The Thoughtful. Ah – the tone, the time, the thought in the email. That lets you know you are in contact with kindness. I have seen the supressed tears in the eyes when I’ve told them the news. A friend who is a widower wrote  “I am not sure whether someone like me (who has not been so far found with cancer of any kind) is qualified to comment on your thoughts at this time. Rather like the inability of anyone who is married to empathise with a widower. The trite assurance that you will henceforth be in my special prayers is genuine and all I can say.” Trite? Goodness, with these few sentences, I knew there is genuine concern and willingness to make an input. Also, I get surprises, when I am asked about some diagnostic test, a while back now, but someone I’ve met again is asking about.

I’ve had some criticism too. Someone said to me “You seem too self sufficient”. Perhaps that’s true. All this blogging does mask inner anxiety. But also, this seeming self sufficiency is a hazard of the long pre-operative stage.  After all, I am still running around as normal.  Post-surgery and wot-not, my human frailty will be more readily evident.

Ask for my family’s reactions. Their lives are not for this blog, and so must be referred to only in passing at most. I have had real positive support from my wife. Telling the kids – well that was the most emotionally difficult conversation so far. Now they’ve rushed off and done their homework, and they realise that ol’dad isn’t going to pop-his-clogs just yet, they are concerned, but are less anxious. 

People want to know, but I wonder if it is often for reasons of self survival. It is a basic reaction. When someone in your circle gets cancer or has a stroke, we feel some sort of primitive survivors delight.

Perils of blogging about cancer? Well I’ve nothing to hide from the insurance company, employer, or anyone else. Due to the blog feed to Linkedin, I’ve had more distant friends send me messages of goodwill. Thanks folks.

version 2, revised 16 January 2013

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