I read recently that someone I know through someone else, got back her biopsy results.
The tests came back positive.
Side note: isn’t it funny that we call tests positive when they tell us we have cancer? Shouldn’t it be exactly the opposite? Negative! Your tests are negative! You have cancer!
Especially since our culture is so gung ho on being positive.
It seems backwards.
The groundswell of support for her was immediate, which was wonderful and heartwarming for her, of course. We need our community at such a time.
But, scrolling through the comments, I came upon the tired crap that comes along with a cancer diagnosis.
Don’t worry! You’ve got this! God doesn’t give you more than you can handle! Stay strong! You’re a fighter! You can beat this! Don’t give up! And on and on….
I hope that those were the words she needed to hear. I’m sure her community meant them in the best way possible. And I do, I do, I do, understand that these are the things that people know how to say and that they say them with loving hearts.
My question is…what the fuck do they really mean, though?
We all have our belief systems. I get it. And mine is probably construed as negative by those who see all of the above stuff as positive and encouraging. I get that, too.
My response to those questions, if I had cancer, would be…You can bet your shit I’m worried! No, I don’t have this! Yes, god, if he/she/it exists, DOES give you more than you can handle! Or, actually, I don’t believe god is up there delivering illness to people anyways, so what the fuck? What exactly does it mean to be strong? Hell, yes, I’m a fighter, but what does that mean, also? Does it mean that if the cancer kills me, I wasn’t a fighter? Or a strong enough fighter? Maybe I can’t beat this? Maybe it can’t be beaten? If I don’t do treatment, does that mean I’ve given up?
It took me back to the day that Chuck and I checked into the ER at Eisenhower Medical Center, in southern CA. He hadn’t been able to sleep in a bed for a month, or recline, because of coughing and pain. He’d had some blood when he coughed. I’d asked him twice if he thought the cancer had returned and he said no, it was the systemic fungal infection. His back hurt because he had back problems. Or it was a kidney stone again.
But the pain was too intense for even him, with his high tolerance of pain, so I took him to the ER and they admitted him immediately and began tests. When we got the results of the initial CAT scan, the dr said he had a “mass” in his lungs, but didn’t say tumor or cancer. They wanted to do more tests. They were admitting him.
I stepped outside his ER room to start the phone calls.
I knew the cancer had returned. I knew this time it would kill him. I can’t tell you how I knew. But I knew, and I didn’t want to say it in front of him. It wasn’t official, yet.
But I had to call the kids. And our friends. Get ahead of the calls, because I knew I had a small window of time before all hell broke loose. And until the C word was spoken officially, I could hold it together.
So, I started making phone calls.
You need to come now I told our kids. We’re still waiting on tests but you need to come now.
One phone call after another, to our closest friends around the country. After a few of the calls, I don’t even remember who I called. Just one after the other.
I was arming myself.
He’ll be okay. He’s got this. Think positively. He’s strong. He’s a fighter. Wait for the results. Even if it is cancer, he’ll beat it again. You can’t be negative.
I desperately wanted to hear just one person say to me…yes, it might be the cancer come back. If it is, we’ll deal with it. Of course, you’re scared and anxious. Of course, you want to throw up. I would, too. Of course, of course, of course….
Hearing all the so-called positivity drove me fucking nuts. How could I explain to any of them that I knew…I KNEW…that this would kill him and I would soon be a widow?
I didn’t want him to die. But it seemed like, if I said no no no! HIS CANCER IS BACK AND IT IS GOING TO KILL HIM!...then it would seem that I was being negative, and like, I don’t know, I was wishing death on him?
Maybe we steer away from admitting the possibilities of death because we are, somehow, superstitious when it comes to speaking candidly about it.
All I know is that, on that day, standing in that hallway, I needed to hear someone respond honestly to me. That’s what would have helped to calm me.
We found out just two hours later, that day, that yes, it was cancer. I found out that night, from the admitting nurse, that tests revealed it was fucking everywhere in his body, in his organs, and, when pressed by me as to possible time frames, that he, the nurse, thought maybe 3 weeks. 3 fucking weeks.
Chuck died 4 weeks later.
All of his tests were positive. The irony of that word, describing cancer tests, haunts me.
And I hate, with every part of me, our culture of so called positivity, that diminishes and disallows honesty in our emotional responses to catastrophic events.
My mind easily drifts back to that hallway outside the ER, wishing desperately for someone…anyone…to honor my feelings of despair and conviction.
All of which is to say…I commented to this woman with the cancer diagnosis, that, yes, God can and does give you more than you can handle, the diagnosis sucks, and what I wish for her is that she feels surrounded by love, feels strengthened by the love of her husband and family and friends, that a sense of humor, dark as it might be, be ever present, as much as possible, and for the best outcome possible.