From A Cancer Survivor to Supporters
I have a lot of trouble dealing with...”supporters.” In the past, I’ve had little patience for well-wishers, and do-gooders seeking to understand my world as a cancer survivor when they are so far out of their depth. If I sound a little...salty, it’s because I am. I won’t deny it. It’s a problem I have to work on within myself.
I’ve been a cancer survivor for 12 years now—obviously something I celebrate, but also something I kind of...I dunno...”mourn”. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy and grateful. But somewhere inside me, there is a well of anger at the fact that I was given this giant burden to carry to begin with; leftover disgust with my body for doing this awful thing to me, and the processes I’ve had to endure along this journey.
I’ve been in the cancer survivorship world long enough now that I really cannot remember what it’s like to NOT have cancer; therefore, I can’t remember what it’s like to NOT know how to treat someone going through a cancer journey.
This brings us back to my issues dealing with...”supporters.”
I think my impatience comes in three phases:
And the most important, you supporters will never, ever, truly understand.
That is what you MUST accept first, as a supporter, that unless you’ve been in the cancer seat yourself, you cannot ever truly understand, despite your well-intentioned actions and words.
In the past, knowing this cardinal rule, my first instinct has been don’t even bother—which is not feasible or helpful. I’ve had to do some growing, wisening, to not want to automatically push supporters away. Because we need people to bother. We need support, even if we don’t even realize it.
As I grow into a more mature and patient-ish survivor, the next thing I’d stress to supporters, (other than that cardinal rule above) is to know that we will go through different phases of survivorship. I’ve gone from a “totally-shut-down-supporter” survivor to an “I understand that I need support” kind of survivor. And that’s not the only time I’ve shifted perspectives in who I am as a survivor.
I’ve gone through phases where I basically pretend I’m a completely normal human who is doing really well and, “Cancer? What cancer? That was so long ago, I had cancer?!” And those phases often feed into stages of “POOR ME, MY LIFE WOULD BE SO MUCH BETTER IF I’D NEVER HAD CANCER!” Let me tell you...these particular stages are emotional up and down, and often pretty pitiful. But please bear with me.
I’ve gone through stages where I really wanted to engage in the survivorship community...and other stages where it was just too painful. Times when I want to talk about it...and times when I really, really don’t.
All of this to say...support your loved ones going through cancer, even if they try to push you away. Understand they are going through something that you just fundamentally can NOT understand, and that there are going to be different levels, different phases, different attitudes toward our survivorship that may present to you as totally different dispositions day to day.
We might need to push you away sometimes... But we’ll pull you back in.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.