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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2010-02-22 19:33
Subject: [cancer] Life's problems, department of other people
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, health, personal
I've said before, cancer is a social disease. It affects everyone around me in ways I cannot even begin to count. I keep running into this with my friends, family and loved ones. I've had people say to me, "Wow, I feel lousy with the flu — Oh, wait, you have cancer, never mind."

To which my response is always, "And? My cancer doesn't make your flu any less unpleasant."

Flu, work issues, indigestion, divorce, health, life issues. Stuff happens to us. My life isn't yours, yours isn't mine, and whatever's up with you isn't any less important or troublesome just because I'm down inside the chemotherapy meat grinder.

It's something I hang on to, for my sense of normal. That everyone else's life goes on, good, bad and indifferent. My cancer doesn't devalue your experience. Your experience enhances mine. It's such a simple, difficult thing.

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User: brownkitty
Date: 2010-02-23 03:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Given what chemo does to the immune system, if I were in proximity to you I'd be afraid of my flu "enhancing" your cancer experience. I'd also be afraid that if you saw me in discomfort or need, you'd try and take from your spoons to offer me one, regardless of what it might cost you. You need your spoons far more than I do. Matter of fact, you need some of my spoons too. The flu takes far fewer spoons to deal with, after all.

You, being an intelligent person, know this. Your friends and loved ones, being intelligent people, also know this. And being compassionate people, you and we and most humans will remain caught in this trap.

Me? I just hope to meet you some day, so that I can correct some inevitable misconceptions and offer you and loved ones some brownies or something.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-02-23 03:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are terribly sweet. And thank you.
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User: brownkitty
Date: 2010-02-23 03:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thus do I refute entropy ;)
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scarlettina
User: scarlettina
Date: 2010-02-23 04:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I understand this phenomenon very well. Growing up, I'd hear friends complaining about their parents and then they'd suddenly hush up and look at me as if they'd done something terrible because my life--the parentless one--was the "there" that the grace of God had kept them from. It was unseemly to talk about parent trouble because I was an orphan. And I'd have the same conversation with them that you're having with the people in your life now.

You've totally got the right perspective, of course; no surprise there. What I dislike about it is you're having to have it at all.
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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2010-02-23 04:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think one of the hard things about cancer is feeling like you're supposed to be an invalid, either in your own eyes or in the eyes of those around you. Being able to offer sympathy and support to others for their woes when you yourself have cancer helps you remember that you're not an invalid, that you are still the same strong person you've always been.

I remember very occasional flashes of resentment when a friend said something unintentionally callous while I was undergoing treatment. Mostly, though, I was just grateful when people acted normal around me. Kept cancer from affecting more of my life than it had to. Sort of kept it confined to its corner, and damned if I was going to let it take up more space than that. If I couldn't have the victory of not having cancer, at least I could have the victory of holding my boot on its throat.
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Karen
User: klwilliams
Date: 2010-02-23 04:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My best friend had chronic nasty illnesses (until one of them killed her), and people used to do the same thing to her. They'd start to complain about the flu or a cold, then stop and apologize. She'd always point out that their pain still hurt and what happened to her didn't lessen that. So I understand.
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User: spir123
Date: 2010-02-23 05:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay, your attitude is refrreshing. Thank you. Bonnie Norman
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Away Above the Chimney Tops
User: boobirdsfly
Date: 2010-02-23 05:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This reminds me of the incredible essay by Susan Sontag "on the pain of others".
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shaolingrrl
User: shaolingrrl
Date: 2010-02-23 06:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, I dunno. Maybe when I say, "Don't mind me, I'm just whining," I really do mean you shouldn't humor me too much, because I really am just whining. :-)
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Kate Mulligan Wolfe
User: corasmama
Date: 2010-02-23 07:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
thank you for posting this. It's something I've been trying to put into words for a while. I've been experiencing this same phenomenon as I go through a horrible, horrible pregnancy that will culminate in months in the NICU and years of in and out of Children's. I still want to hear about my friends' lives, even the bad.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-02-23 14:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oi. Best of luck and health to you and your family.
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desperance
User: desperance
Date: 2010-02-23 09:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Of course you're right, but it is astonishingly difficult from the other side, not to stumble over that "OMG here I am grumbling about transient flu when Jay's had cancer and is having chemo and even his treatments are so much more unpleasant than my symptoms, and maybe I'd better just shut up now..."

Same thing in the '90s, nursing friends with AIDS. I was awkward then, and I'm awkward still. Sigh.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-02-23 14:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
AIDS in the 1990s (or even now) is much worse than what I'm going through, my friend. My heart goes out to you.
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User: hkneale
Date: 2010-02-23 12:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Whenever I get the flu or a cold or some other malady, I think, "Gee, this sucks. But it's better than heartbreak." Suddenly, whatever I've got doesn't feel so bad. (I hate heartbreak. Hurts worse than anything else I've ever felt.)

For me, outlooks affect how bad something pains me. When I'm positive, it doesn't hurt as bad as it could if I'm dwelling in a misery pit of my own digging.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-02-23 13:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Twenty percent of all people will get cancer at some point in their lives, which means that virtually everyone will be touched closely by cancer at some point. However, it tends to happen later in life, so many younger folks have that "OMGCANCER!" reaction and feel very awkward and guilty about it. I've found it's very nice to talk about such things with older people (say over 50), because very often they have already been through something like this, and have very helpful things to say. Not that the more naive, younger people aren't helpful. It's just that their awkwardness sometimes becomes something for *me* to comfort them about, rather than for them to be a comfort to me. As in, "Yeah, even though my mother is severely ill, crippled, and mentally disabled, it doesn't mean your mother's broken hip is not upsetting--really, it's ok."
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