Fighting off the grim reaper yet again

Courtesy of sparkofhope

Courtesy of sparkofhope

So…how do you act when you get bad news? Ride with your emotions? Blubber all over the place? Try to keep a stiff upper lip? Not sure what to do? Yeah, me too.

We got bad news last week. Someone close received bad health news. Not the terminal kind of news but the invasive, nasty treatments and life will never be the same again news.

All of a sudden we are talking about a person’s organs. Their private parts. How they work now and how they will work (or not) after the treatment. Is this an invasion of privacy?

I have another relative with long-term prostate cancer. We talk about his prostate as if it was dinner conversation. What are the numbers? Is it enlarged? That’s just weird.

We all have a need to understand. Do we need to worry? Of course! Why did this happen to this person who should not have been at risk at all?

We all grew up together. We were exposed to the same environmental toxins. We ate the same foods. It could have happened to any of us. Maybe that floating thought drives our need to understand why it was him. Maybe we are at risk too.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn’t talk much about it at first. I didn’t want a lot of questions because my emotions were just under the surface.

After a while, I processed it and was able to discuss it without turning into a heap of mashed potatoes. I was able to discuss my breast as if it were an everyday item that was used to such discussion. Like a spoon or a fork. (So how’s your fork today? A little sore maybe?)

I could talk about the treatments in the abstract as if they were happening to someone else. Statistics. Process. They all flowed from my mouth without emotion.

Finally, I was able to laugh about it. I mostly talked about the OTHER one, the good one. Someone bumped into me once and I screamed, “Oh my God, you dented my good one! I only have one good one left!” It was priceless. I laughed for a half hour while the poor guy was turning all shades of red.

How do you get from “am I gonna die” to “don’t dent my good one?” It’s takes time. Lots of time.

I am hoping we can all get to that point in time. Soon.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that the treatments aren’t as gross as they sound.

29 thoughts on “Fighting off the grim reaper yet again

  1. You had breast cancer? All this whining I’ve been doing over my hearing loss and you had cancer? I’m humbled Kate, really I am, and more than a little impressed. I lie about my hearing…pretend I can hear when I can’t. Feel shame…it’s really amazing to read how open you were. Humor? It’s my second skin yet it’s so hard to apply it when I feel like Grannie Clampet.

    I know the essay is more about your friend, and I’m sorry, I am…illness makes everything else feel like nothing. Glad I came a callin.

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    • Ah but my cancer was 10 years ago. I wasn’t any different than you. I couldn’t joke about it for a long time. Although I only had a lumpectomy, there is a difference between the two breasts that I was sure everyone could see. I worried about it coming back. I worried about it affecting my job. There was nothing funny about it at the time.

      My husband went through a hearing loss the same time you did. Although he has had some recovery, it’s not as it was. (It never is, is it?) He wasn’t any different than you either.

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      • I’m still in awe. Also, wasn’t aware of your husband’s hearing loss. It could come back. Ears, I’ve learned, are very moody and unpredictable. I stopped writing about it but I’m still in the throes. Tell him he’s not alone. As far as you go Madam, you are very brave. Not an easy thing to get through nor live with. I’m glad I know about it 🙂

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    • The truth is that I got sick of the sadness and worry. Even though it would strike at 3 a.m. when all is dark, I refused to share my daytime hours with it. Laughing just makes you feel so good.

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  2. Sometimes there’s a lot of “didn’t need to know that” going on, and, like you, I don’t want to reduce someone’s personality to their parts. But it sure does happen and more often than I thought it would.

    Your humor and empathy will carry you through, of that I’m sure. Hang in there!
    MJ

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  3. You have such a healthy attitude, it seems to take over in times of physical distress. I really believe that helps a person fight the illness. I have so many friends with very difficult health issues. Some are really the scary things, and others just slowly take away vitality and zest for life. It seems that in your case you told the Grim Reaper to go away, and never come back! You meant business. I think each person has to find a way to do the same! And it can be hard to watch a friend in such a struggle. I hope you are able to share your sense of humor with some of them. It’s a priceless tonic!

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  4. The interesting thing is, that once you become ill, you become your illness. Your prostate becomes you. Your breasts become you. It’s what the medical community often reduce you to but friends and family as well. It’s done in a well meaning way but like you said, it’s weird how our private organs become public property once they stop working well.
    I become my breasts, and once they were gone I became my implants. Friends asked about them in a way they wouldn’t had they been the originals. It’s strange isn’t it.

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  5. “dented the good one” – that’s great!
    As we travel along, sooner or later stuff breaks – and you just deal. The long term effects are sometimes a surprise (who can absorb all the information they throw at you at once?)…life is different, people act different, but you play with the hand you’ve got. Learning to laugh again is the best.

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  6. 1. OMG . . . I loved this:

    “Finally, I was able to laugh about it. I mostly talked about the OTHER one, the good one. Someone bumped into me once and I screamed, “Oh my God, you dented my good one! I only have one good one left!” It was priceless. I laughed for a half hour while the poor guy was turning all shades of red.”

    And this:

    “How do you get from “am I gonna die” to “don’t dent my good one?” It’s takes time. Lots of time.”

    2. I tend to be circumspect about health issues (unless I really feel a need to share and put IT out there) for a few reasons: (1) once the “cat is out of the bag” people tend to focus on IT even at times when I’d like to get my mind off of IT ~ if I’m happy and engrossed in savoring the GOOD STUFF, I don’t want someone reminding me about the BAD STUFF; (2) some people stop laughing and living around you to avoid feeling guilty that you’re sick and they’re not ~ and I believe that LAUGHTER is the best medicine; and (3) if I’m coping with IT, I don’t want to have to provide emotional support to people who are turning into mashed potatoes or jelly fish upon hearing the news.

    I would share with BFF . . . and a few chosen souls. I’d leave everyone else in the dark.

    3. Caring Bridge is a blogging venue for sick people. A friend with Breast Cancer used it to SHARE UPDATES. It lets everyone check in at their leisure to see how things are going without sapping the energy needed for healing from the person undergoing treatment. Visitors can leave messages of support.

    Best wishes to your friend.

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    • I am a lot like you. That’s why I didn’t talk about it at first. People have to process these things (like I am with my friend now) and I didn’t want to have to be strong for everyone. Eventually you get there but each at their own time. Now I like to talk to people who are newly diagnosed because I know how they feel and sometimes I can give them information that will help.

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      • Yes! After the fact, I am happy to talk about health trials . . . because I can share the POSITIVE outcome and give them HOPE for similar success.

        I thought of another reason that I don’t want to share too soon . . . because some people do NOT share only POSITIVE outcomes. Instead, they want to share the most HORRIFIC stories imaginable with those “just diagnosed.”

        They jump in with, “My cousin had a hang-nail once and she ended up having to have her hand amputated.”

        Seriously? Who needs to hear stuff like that when they’re trying to heal?

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  7. Your post hits very close to home for me. Some choose to discuss every detail and post it all on FaceBook while others face it privately. A positive attitude and sense of humor are often the best medicine. And sometimes it takes something like this to make us appreciate every single day that we have! I wish you a speedy recovery!

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  8. I have a friend (more like an acquaintance) who has been posting her ailment (aggressive breast cancer) on FaceBook since Day 1 – through each treatment, through meds, dealing with raising two little boys at home (she is only 40), running a business, feeling horrible, scared, hopeful, fatalistic – the whole story. I believe it is cathartic for her and educational for those who have not experienced that kind of scare. Sometimes I think sharing a terrifying health problem blow by blow really helps in all directions.

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    • I think that’s true. I always worried that friends would tire of it all (heck, sometimes I did) but they never seemed to. I had a very supportive group helping me recover and I believe that this person does too.

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  9. I don’t know what other people need, but my best advice is to take it one day at a time, just as they will need to take their circumstance. I agree with Fransi that our imaginations are sometimes worse than the reality of treatments and aftermath. As a practical matter, let your friend know about http://www.caringbridge.org where he or she can set up a private page to keep loved ones informed without dealing with phone trees and email chains, and loved ones can post messages of encouragement. There is also a planner where people can sign up to cook, run errands, etc. I’m sure you can set the whole thing up for your friend if that’s easier. Good luck…

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  10. I find most things aren’t as difficult as they sound. Our imaginations don’t always do us a favour. The other thing I find is, almost anything is bearable when your friends and family support and encourage you, when they’re there for you and pull for you. Sounds like your loved one can count on that.

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