When we receive the diagnosis….we experience a wide array of feelings: disbelief…shock…fear…anxiety…resolve. We have that in common – the evocation of emotions when we first receive the news. Yet, somehow, though we come from that same sense of place, some of us do “that thing” or assume that others think “that thing” – measure our suffering and/or “realness” of having cancer against others.
You know…the “I didn’t have chemo” or “I didn’t have a mastectomy” or “I don’t have the BRCA” or “I ONLY had to do XYZ for treatment.” If you have not thought it, you have probably heard it said out loud. So just in case you didn’t get the memo SUFFERING ISN’T A CONTEST. There’s no trophy for the person who “suffered most,” or was “such a stronger warrior than someone else,” because those types of statements – trying to stratify the “realness” of cancer via a subjective, suffering measure - doesn’t help anyone. If anything, such comparisons only serve to set us further apart from each other when, in fact, the love and support of our fellow thrivers is so incredibly needed and wanted.
This journey that we’re on, individually and also together, is only made more tolerable, more positive, more rich, more beautiful, and sometimes just-barely-making-it, as a result of our acceptance of ourselves and our relationships with each other - others who understand these experiences, feelings, and thoughts. Recognizing our unique experiences and stories; learning from and leaning on each other; showing care, compassion, and grace for each other and, as important, ourselves – you need that…I need that…we all need that.
Most of the time, I’m just figuring things out too. The days where I’m self-admonishing for being a bigger girl balanced by the days when I am feeling extra-super-girl-power-fab; the days when I miss wearing heels due to the residual peripheral neuropathy balanced by a newfound love of wearing Keens and Uggs on the daily; the days when I’m frustrated by the chemo-effects on my memory and recall balanced with the delightful disbelief of remembering all of the song lyrics from 80s boy bands.
Speaking of remembering lyrics…I take back my earlier statement. We could definitely have a suffering contest if we karaoke together! Having cancer did a lot of things, but it definitely didn’t improve my vocal ability.