One time I was at a support group and I was talking about stress. I feel stressed out all the time, I said, and then I think about how people say stress causes cancer and I know it isn’t true, but I can’t stop thinking that I need to relax or else my cancer will come back and then I get stressed out because I’m stressed and it makes me feel worse. There were two empty chairs between myself and another woman. She said, Actually, I believe stress causes cancer. I stared at her and said, I can’t believe I just said I’m struggling because I feel stressed for feeling stress and you thought a good response was to tell me that stress causes cancer.
The group facilitator giggled nervously and said, Oh, ha ha, humor really does help us cope with our concerns, doesn’t it? It’s so good when we can find what is funny in a situation.
I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was angry.
I feel like I don’t know how to be ill properly. Sometimes I will meet other people who are young with cancer or who have the same cancer as me and I am so happy to hear they are ill, too. I say, It’s so nice to meet you and get to know you. I am so happy to have this opportunity, I just wish it were under different circumstances. But that isn’t true. Because I can’t imagine myself without cancer so that means if circumstances were different, they wouldn’t have cancer but I would and we wouldn’t have connected on that common ground and they wouldn’t make me feel less alone for being ill.
I don’t know if I am explaining this well.
Colleen and Elfi are friends from my support group. They were over one night and we were talking about different things related to cancer. Elfi and Colleen don’t have cancer any more. I said, Please don’t tell Kurt this but I am glad he has a recurrence right now because it makes me feel better knowing someone else is in the same situation as me. Now that I have written this, Kurt can read it and know that I take some satisfaction out of his being ill. But not because I want him to be ill, but because I don’t want to be the only one.
We think that we feel or should feel sorry when another person is sick. But a lot of the time we just feel relieved. Because it means that either we aren’t sick or we aren’t alone. Colleen once apologized for talking about how great and confident she feels being so long out of treatment and said that while she felt bad for me, she also felt giddy with happiness for herself and that she didn’t really feel that sad for me because she felt so happy for herself. I’m paraphrasing, but that was the essence of the conversation. And that’s the way it should be.We should feel more happy for ourselves than we feel sad for other people.
Most of my best memories are those where I have felt joy and despair at the same moment. Maybe because so much of my life has been spent living in emotional extremes. Or maybe it is like this for everyone but people don’t talk about experiencing opposite emotions simultaneously. Or maybe people ignore happiness when they feel they should be sad, or sadness when they should be happy.
Today a feral cat I’ve been feeding with Shea and Paul let me pet her on the top of her head while she ate. And later I held a baby even smaller than that cat and tickled the bottom of her foot to wake her up. Next week I go back to chemo and have to be a patient for a few days and recover, but this week I just get to be human and work and drink beer and hang out in the park.