Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chapter 3: Pity and Shame

I wanted to explore the "Shame" of getting cancer a bit more.  The need to hide our disease. Cancer has so many faces, effects you in so many different ways.  Many bad, but some good. So I guess the shame stems from many things as well. Some bad, and some good.  I don't know if everyone gets to the place I am in, the place where you need to share despite misgivings.  Maybe it is because I am a writer at heart and I finally have a real story to tell. A story that might actually help others, for I am a healer at heart too. And if by my sharing, it can open people's minds to the thoughts and feelings of cancer sufferers, I would like to do that. If by sharing I can help other cancer patients feel a little less alone, and that their feelings are normal, I want to do that.

For me, some of the shame of sharing was simply not liking the attention or pity.  I was worried when I started writing to you guys, that some of you would think this was a cry for attention, to get sympathy.  That is the farthest thing from my mind.  I do,  not,  in,  any,  way,  shape,  or form,  want this to be a pity party!  So lets just get that straight right now! Got it? Good.

Sometimes I just don't want to be a Debbie Downer.  Who wants to talk about Cancer!?  It's sort of taboo.  You hide your scar, get a different bathing suit so you don't gross anyone else out by your appearance or, heaven for bid, someone asks how you got the scar!  Then if you reply that it was from cancer, you fear the reaction. Is it going to be pity? masked horror? silence? You hope it will give you the opportunity to just give others the heads up.  Something to put in their thinking cap. But there are a lot of Ostriches out there, who would rather keep their head in the sand than consider the possibility that life is fragile. You don't want to invade their comfy little ostrich hole.

Part of it is just not wanting to deal with it yourself. If I don't admit it, don't talk about it, maybe it isn't as real.  Maybe it will kinda go away. Some days, you just don't want to be a cancer patient. You just want to be normal.  But even that phrase, cancer patient, leads to another issue. I don't feel like a "real" cancer patient or a "survivor". It's the old, skin cancer isn't real cancer problem. Melanoma patients are put in a cancer class all on its own. I read a book written by a fellow sufferer, Michael Antcliffe. He did tile work and at one of his jobs, the lady of the house mentioned that she was a cancer survivor.  His boss commented that Michael was a cancer survivor too, from melanoma.  Her reply??  "Oh no, I had "real" cancer." Smack! Oooo, That hurt!!  He died less than a year ago.  Is that real enough for you lady?!

People don't think it's real because sometimes surgery is enough, sometimes you can cut it out and it never comes back. You don't need to have chemo if you catch it early. (Actually, for melanoma that metastasizes, chemo is very ineffective. Not a good thing in the scheme of things) Most of the "treatment" is just watch and wait. And so, since we sometimes "get off easy" in the treatment area, it feels wrong to put yourself in the same category as other cancer patients. Even call yourself a survivor.  But after hearing other people's stories, the constant uncertainty, the roller coaster ride of melanoma, I have more respect for being a cancer survivor. It can go from "A" ok, to fighting for your life, so fast. So I am trying to embrace the surreal terms, cancer patient, and survivor, embrace them as my own.  It's a battle in my head.

When I was starting this chapter I looked up the term pity.  And I found something interesting..... the first meaning for "pity" was "a regrettable or blameworthy act. "Shame" and "sin" was a synonym...... interesting.  I realize this is not the empathy shade of the word, but still a relation.  Somehow this world makes you feel like you should feel blamed somehow for the cancer, feel shame, so hide it, hide it away so no one sees your shame.  I have shed that skin. And it feels so nice.  I can breath just a little bit deeper.

Deep breath in, deep breath out, close your eyes and sigh some relief. A small smile tugs at the corners of my mouth. A moment of serenity. Moments I am thankful for. 

Click for Michael Antcliffe's site and book. 

(I'm not the only one that feels this way.  Here are a few fellow melanomates comments about this blog post:

- Thanks for sharing! Your writing is amazing and hits home. 

- Thank you so much for sharing. You are an inspiration to us all. When I was first diagnosed with melanoma, I didn't want anyone to know. But that all changed after trying to 'hide' it for two months. I no long keep quiet. It's up to all of us to spread the word about the dangers of tanning. Thank You.

And this is an article on how others don't feel the title of survivor fits at first. Featuring a fellow Stage 2 melanomate, Melissa: Article )

1 comment:

  1. I am loving your blog. Thank you so much for sharing. They are all hitting home for me, but especially the shame and the guilt of feeling like you got off "easy" with surgery..but none of us gets off easy. We live with it every day, appearing in all of our thoughts, no matter how innocent they are. People need to know how serious this "skin" cancer is.