Thursday, August 31, 2006

First Encounters

For anyone reading this post, here's a warning: I'm not feeling cheerful tonight, and I am feeling that Cancer Sucks! (A good friend actually gave me a little bear with those words, and it sits by my favorite TV watching chair. Good to have when I'm in this kind of mood.) Now that I have that off my chest . . . I had thought my next blog would focus on the spiritual aspects of my diagnosis, but I'm not feeling "spiritual" tonight.

When I do just about anything for the first time after my cancer diagnosis, it can be stressful. This week I went back to work. I have been on break for the summer, and I had meetings this week, and next week I resume teaching. So, for the first time since my diagnosis, I returned to my office. It's actually full of boxes, because I'm moving to a new office over the weekend, and my graduate assistant packed my office, but I got to sit there and say good-bye. And I got to remember that when I was last there, I had funny itching and orange urine, so I left and went to see my doctor. From there, it was a quick trip to the ultrasound, then the ERCP, then 10 days of hospitalization, major surgery, and my diagnosis. More than three months ago, and it feels like an eternity. Today I walked familiar streets in Boston, and remembered that the last time I walked them, I didn't have cancer. Or rather, the cancer was in me, and I didn't know it. I wish I could return to that pre-cancer innocence.

As summer ends, I am seeing friends and work colleagues I haven't seen since spring, and I wonder whether or not they know about my diagnosis. Some folks know I was "sick," but don't know the details. "How much do I feel like sharing in the moment?" I have to ask myself. The news was so bleak in May that I wasn't sure I would still be alive to see Sept. 1, so I told a lot of folks about the diagnosis then. Now, some days, I feel that overwhelming one more person with the poor prognosis for this disease is more than I can stand. I can feel their energy sink as I talk, and then my energy sinks, and it feels as if there is nothing else to say. And it is exhausting.

Next week, I'll teach my first classes, talk with returning students, meet new students, see more folks I haven't seen since spring, and unpack the boxes of my office stuff in my new office space. And again, it will be exhausting, but then this particular set of "first encounters (since the cancer diagnosis)" will be over, and life can go on. And I'm grateful that, for the moment, life is going on.

And, if you are reading this and you are one of the friends or colleagues I saw yesterday, or today, or that I see next week, don't worry about talking to me, or asking me how I feel. It's my job to figure out how I want to respond to questions, and I always appreciate the concern and caring behind those questions. So, do ask, and know that Cancer Sucks!


Anonymous said...

Hey friend- I am responding because I think I have some idea as to how to decide what to do about all this explaining. My daughter has a brain tumor, and I have upcoming opportunities to do a fair share of explaining how she is doing as my job begins again next week. Two things occur to me. One is that I talk about it when I feel up to it. That may or may not be every day. Many people are scared of the whole topic, so if you tell them you don't feel like talking today, some of them will be relieved anyway. My own partner can't talk about our kid's cancer as much as I can. The second thing is you will quickly get to know your "people" where cancer is concerned. They are the ones that always check in and ask how you are doing and they look you dead in the eye and listen fully when you actually tell them the grim details. Not just everyone can tolerate this stuff. But when you find your go-to people at your job and in your church and neighborhood, stick with them , and don't even try to talk to the others. Let them be. It isn't their fault. This cancer stuff is just too intense for alot of people. Also know that my personal belief is that the universe will provide plenty of the listeners whenever you need them. It has just sort of worked out like that for me. Thanks for your courage in sharing your struggles and joys with us. You are a gift in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

So you’re right – cancer sucks. I don’t have it, don’t want it, and don’t want you to have it. So what is there to feel cheerful about? That you can, and do, say what you feel.
A few days after your diagnosis I read this in Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart.
It spoke to me. I share it in the hope that it may speak to others as well.

She laughed so much she made me giggle. “Do you laugh and smile all the time?” I asked the woman. “Are you this happy all the time?”
“My heart is open and healed,” she said. “I laugh a lot. But I cry a lot, too.”

An open heart feels all it needs to feel. Cry when it hurts. At the end of your tears, you will see more clearly. Tears clear our eyes and our heart. Cry whenever you need to.

Laugh often, as often as you can. Laugh with friends. Laugh out loud. The discoveries, the growth, the insights, the closeness, the sharing, the learning don’t have to be such serious, somber events. Truth is discovered most often in laughter. Bonds are formed. Love becomes unveiled.

Cry a lot. Laugh a lot. Let life reveal its mysteries to you. Let love find you, course through you, touch all you meet through your laughter and tears. The fortunate person is not the one who wins the lottery. That’s luck. We will find fortune when we open our hearts and learn the secret of life.

Laughter and tears are the signs of an open heart.