You know, I feel sometimes like I haven’t been fair. Before H.A.D. was diagnosed, I turned to the internet and asked for help. And everyone responded in huge, gorgeous and memorable ways by posting my plea. And after we found out he had Multiple Myeloma? You all responded again, through your kind words, the worlds best video and donations. And then H.A.D. got overwhelmed and I fell apart and nothing felt easy or right and it seemed so much easier to not share, not talk, not explain. It seemed easier to sit in my own stew of feelings- of jealousy and frustration and hate, and not talk to anyone, especially the internet. And so, for a month- that’s what happened.
Then H.A.D. came back. Started treatment. Got a new apartment, a new job and we both worked on making this better the second time around. And I started doing more reading, not just on treatment options and healing alternatives but on the psychology of cancer. I felt, and sometimes still feel- that there’s no resource that was tailor fit for me (or H.A.D. for that matter). I couldn’t find a blog or website or book that calmed my brain or made me feel reassured that I wasn’t completely RHONY sort of psycho for feeling the way I did (and sometimes still do).
So I decided to do it myself. Become my own resource. Look to myself to find comfort and hopefully become a resource for other people who love someone with cancer. Here is what I wish someone else would have told me:
1. You will wish it happened to someone else. By far, this has been the thought that has kept me up at night and ate at my insides. I know I’m a good person. I know this. I teach kids to read, I help old ladies cross the street (okay, I haven’t done this, BUT I WOULD IF AN OLD LADY EVER NEEDED HELP), I show compassion towards others even if they are still wearing No Fear t-shirts. 99.9% of the time, I’m sweeter than a snickers bar. But? Every single day I wish this happened to someone else. And I’m not choosy. I don’t just pick bad guys. I don’t just wish it on the CEO of BP, or the person who invented carbohydrates. I’ve wished it on strangers who smiled at me on the street. Co-workers who make me laugh. My teenage cashier at Safeway. Am I proud of this? No. But I can’t help but believe it’s human nature to want to protect those you love over everyone else. And if taking cancer away from H.A.D. meant I had to give it to someone else, anyone else? I would do that in a heartbeat.
That’s a hard confession to type, it’s even harder to say out loud to myself. Does this make me selfish? Absolutely. I would love to be one of those people who thinks differently, but I’m not. And I think dealing with cancer means being honest with yourself. This doesn’t mean I spend every waking moment wishing it was someone else- no, that’s not close at all. I know that I can’t move forward if I’m always looking back. But I do let thoughts of ‘I wish this person had it instead’ creep into my brain when it’s too tired to push them away.
2. And everyone else who doesn’t have it? Well, you will sometimes be jealous of them. This sounds like a no-brainer. But the intensity of how jealous you can get and how much it can affect you if you let it,.. well that surprised me. It’s a funny thing, the way that totally not funny things sometimes are. When someone you love finds out they have cancer, there is an outpouring of support. Co-workers give you hugs, strangers send you emails, friends hunker down for long talks where you are given a free pass to talk solely about yourself until you are exhausted and out of breath. But? Life goes on. And co-workers and strangers and friends all move on too.
This doesn’t mean they don’t care, it just means that they face their own burdens, reach their own accomplishments, have big and exciting announcements to share. Co-workers reach career milestones and friends get engaged. Strangers forget and your family moves on. People become pregnant or move in together, they get new jobs, new boyfriends, buy a new house. And with every new piece of news, every new announcement shared in an excited shriek, you will feel your heart burst- with both happiness for them and jealousy for yourself. And if you are being really honest? Guilt. That you can no longer feel just pure excitement for someone else and their good fortune, that even in the happiest, most joyful moments, a slice of you is jealous of someone else getting what they wanted when all you wanted was a cancer free test result.
3. Cancer doesn’t change the fact that you fight. It doesn’t even change how you fight. I guess I always had this idea in my head that if someone I loved was battling cancer I would treat them better. I would never fight, always give in, cede middle ground. I would never do anything to upset them, cause them anguish, make them hurt. It doesn’t work like that. Well, it doesn’t for me and H.A.D., anyway. We still fight about the stupidest stuff. We argue and disagree and have conversations where we both want to pull our hair out. Of course, I express my frustration in charming ways (ex “honey? I feel like my head is going to explode”), because I’m adorable and that’s just how I roll. But the truth is, cancer isn’t a get of free pass. It doesn’t make fighting or relationships any easier or harder, it just changes the shape of them.
Do H.A.D. and I have more on our plates because of his diagnosis? Of course. But I believe that every single couple goes through their own burden, every couple has their own obstacle to overcome that will bring them closer or tear them apart. I wish ours wasn’t something so dramatic (I would be happier dealing with in-laws so awful they are worthy of a Dr. Phil appearance) but this is what we have been given so it’s what we will face.
Anyway. There are three big lessons I’ve learned since the cancer bomb dropped. Like I said before, I wish I had been able to find a resource that reassured me that this was all okay. But? I didn’t and have decided to trust myself enough to know that what I’m feeling is normal, even if it isn’t always pretty.
I get regular emails asking about H.A.D.- which I have to thank you for. He’s doing well. Like I said, he started a new job, he’s continuing treatment and we are hoping for a transplant late summer/early fall. And when the time comes for the transplant and I’m a ball of nerves and fears? I will know exactly who to turn to for comfort. You.
Have a good Sunday internet!