Different circumstances

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.


About Alicia Louise

I'm a writer, editor, fact checker, storyteller, events organizer, chronically busy yet endlessly lazy, mildly neurotic (though I keep the neuroses well-hidden, one hopes) 32-year-old with recurrent ovarian cancer. I like people and good writing and straight talk. I have a hard time feeling sorry for people, including myself, but the people that I love, I love passionately; one may even say creepily. I try to keep that mostly to myself. I'd like to be charming, but I'm usually just a mess. I'm like a gull slamming into your windshield.
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6 Responses to Different circumstances

  1. Sandra says:

    “Or maybe people ignore happiness when they feel they should be sad, or sadness when they should be happy.” – You’re absolutely right. People feel guilty for feeling happiness when they should be sad. It shouldn’t be this way. Who said we can’t be happy and sad at the same time for different (or even the same) reasons?

  2. dusterbed says:

    Re: this post – you’re not doing anything wrong ❤

  3. Nancy says:

    Emotional confusion’s a bitch. (So are a lot of other things I’m sure you are all too familiar with.)

  4. barismumyakmaz says:

    I am glad to be under same circumstances as you are: work, socialize and have fun (including beer too) before my chemo next week.

    • Alicia says:

      We have to get it in while we can. If I keep busy before chemo, I don’t mind so much the days after when I have to stay home because I feel sick.

  5. Heather C. says:

    I think that stress is bad for us, sure, but accepting that “stress causes cancer” is horrible. Especially when we can’t just remove all stress from our lives. Because then, what, we get guilt for making ourselves sick?

    I read “When the Body Says No” and it changed my life, but the big thing I took away from it is that it does nobody any good for me to be a martyr. That is the change I can make – I can work to reduce my stress by listening to my body and doing what my body needs. After years of working too hard, disordered eating, alcohol abuse, and people-pleasing, that was huge. I’m still working on it. Does it mean I won’t get cancer? No. I can’t control that.

    And fuck having to have a positive attitude all the time. Cancer fucking sucks. Chemo fucking sucks. Surgery fucking sucks. Having to repress your difficult emotions because they might make someone else feel uncomfortable? That, I think, is the kind of stress that is really bad for us. It causes depression, it causes isolation, it makes us feel like terrible human beings. I’m so glad that you are writing about this, and I’m referring your blog to other folks in similar situations.

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