Apr. 18: Cancer is an asshole

a5000e802d87b82dcb658c8dadfe91feEvery time I start to blog lately, my thoughts wander from whatever meaningless topic I was planning to write about and focus on all the reasons I have no business writing about meaningless things. That’s why it’s been quiet ‘round here lately. A couple friends have messaged me to ask if everything’s okay, and I want to say that it is, but that’d be lying.

Things are not okay.

Things are not okay because while *I* may not have any diagnosed cancer cells in my body right now, cancer is still affecting people that I love. I AM NOT FINE WITH THAT. No one should be. I’m furious that people are still dying from cancer, that people who are being diagnosed immediately feel they’ve been given a death sentence. I know cancer cure rates are a lot higher than they used to be, but they’re not high enough.

Examples? Why yes, I have several, DAMMIT.

Theresa’s husband, Scott, was on hospice for a very short two weeks before he passed away last Thursday. He was way too young for this to happen. He had zero risk factors that contributed to his type of cancer. It’s just plain WRONG that he even had it in the first place. His daughters, 6 and 10, say it isn’t fair and ask why. What the hell can anyone say to that??? We agree. We ask why, too.

The wife of another friend just found out she has an aggressive form of breast cancer. She’s also young, with two young sons.

The doctor that ordered the scan that finally diagnosed my constant pain for the entirety of 2009—one of the kindest, most caring physicians I’ve ever known—was recently diagnosed with cancer himself.

See? It’s all-cancer-all-the-time, and I’m pissed.

Immediately after hearing about Scott last week, I felt an urgent need to DO something. Theresa’s house was full of family taking care of her immediate needs, and there was nothing I could help with there. I quickly figured out that sitting still just turned into crying, which did no good at all, so I tried to be busy. In the first hour I went out to our front yard and dug up every dandelion I could find, inadvertently digging up a few bulbs and other things we’ve lovingly placed “just so” over the years. Oops. When I finished our yard, I moved over into Tina’s. Then I went to the other side and worked on Trudy’s yard. I was exhausted and filthy, and I’d relieved a teensy bit of tension, but it wasn’t enough. I drove to a nursery to get more plants, and wandered the aisles back and forth, unable to make any choices. I don’t know why I thought plants were the answer. I was absolutely worthless.

A few of us went to Theresa’s that evening. Conversation was all over the place, and at times it felt almost like any other girls’ night—we talked about a new job, a quirky husband, vacation plans, our hope to someday smoke pot just once, getting old, middle school drama, good wine, smelly boys, haircuts, Theresa’s near-perfect puppy, and more. But mixed in with all that was conversation about the hospice experience, Scott’s last moments, his big family (Val made a very helpful org chart of them!), memorial service plans, his bucket list, and the kids. It was good to be together, and it was good to smile. It was good to see Theresa smile. We all kinda love her a LOT.

cancer images (9) (As a bystander, it’s hard not to put yourself in the shoes of the grieving person/people. We can pull from our own past experiences of loss, but the differences are huge sometimes—grieving a parent is not the same as grieving a spouse. It ends up being a lot of stumbling around, mumbling the same thing as everyone else: “I’m here for you” and “I’m so sorry” and “tell me if you need anything”—heartfelt, yes, but they just feel so friggin’ empty.)

The next morning I was still antsy. I didn’t want to feel the feels, y’know? I attacked weeds again. I cleaned the house. I sorted laundry. I did whatever I could to avoid sitting and thinking. This was a good release of my angry energy, of course, but also made me feel selfish; I mean—and I know this sounds overdramatic—Theresa and her kids don’t have the luxury of avoiding thoughts of Scott.

That evening I got the message from my friend about his wife’s diagnosis. I was watching TV, having calmed enough to sit for a few moments, and that damn email alert changed everything. It’s incredible—and a little scary—to feel how quickly anger comes over oneself. I pounded out a reply, and I tossed and turned all night with worry about his family, Theresa and her family, and cancer in general.

I hate that I feel like a rotten friend to these people right now, because I know that ONE, I’m not all that encouraging—I want to be, but it’s hard to ignore all the screaming of four-letter words in my head, and TWO, I have a hard time separating my own experience from theirs. In other words, I worry that I come off as though I think it’s all about me. I know it isn’t. Everyone’s cancer fight is different. Everyone’s cancer fight is their own. But hearing another person has to start fighting brings back so much of the bullshit I dealt with four years ago.

What I have to say to these people probably makes no difference at all, but I really, truly want to help, to ease pain, to give hope. Yes, I have some knowledge of what it means to be a cancer patient. But really, I should probably just shut the hell up. Cancer stirs all kinds of emotions in me, still, and I’m not so good at bottling them or waiting for the appropriate time to share them. The word “cancer” makes me just BLEARGH and throw my useless words all over the place.

Come ON, medical science. It’s not okay that we have to keep hearing about more cancer. It feels like we’re all just waiting to get the news for ourselves; it doesn’t seem to matter if we avoid known carcinogens, eat right, do all we’re supposed to for good health; cancer’s still gonna find its way into us.

I’m pissed. I’m so, so tired of being pissed. It’s not okay.




  1. Jen, I'm sorry about all the bad news lately. I'm sure they consider themselves lucky to have you in their corner. Having lost a close friend to cancer, there are so many feelings it brings up for me, and I feel like I'm pretty much worthless to anyone who may need support or a shoulder or whatever, even though I don't *want* to be. I recently took lunch to a friend who is battling breast cancer, and we just pretty much didn't talk about it. I was so relieved, and you know, maybe she was too. I remember when Lisa was dying, she said to me, "Let's talk about anything else. Anything else but the cancer." I was glad she came out and told me what to do.

    It sucks. All of it. We just each have to do the best we can. Show up and try, I guess? And dig in the dirt, maybe.

  2. I'm really sorry, Jen. Sorry for you, sorry for everyone else it affects. Just basically sorry for all the shit that floats around this world. I wish I could make things better. In the meantime, come drink a mai tai with me! (Is that mean time, or meantime? Help, Grammar Girl!)


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