Saturday, December 17, 2005

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0023 - You and Me

“I’m constantly hearing you have to be positive. But you can’t ‘pretty up’ this disease. You have to face it, deal with it, and you have to think about it.

When I’m faced with depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, the last thing I need is a pep talk, Intellectually I know that feeling positive is good for your mental health and yes, I will get there. But for now, I need a place where I can allow myself to feel miserable, and down, and depressed, a place where I’m not protecting those around me from cancer. A place to deal with the tough issues that come with cancer.”

-Rosa McDonald, breast cancer patient (p.17 - The Emotional Facts of Life with Cancer: A Guide to Counselling and Support for Patient, Families and Friends)

I hear you, Rosa!

Well meaning people tell me to “put my brain into neutral”, “let God be in control”, “don’t think about the ‘what ifs’”, “have a manager’s state of mind”, “repeat healing scriptures twice each day aloud”, “don’t tell people anything about your cancer who don’t need to know what’s going on”, “forget the technical information research”, and the grand daddy of them all – “just live one day at a time”. On the other side of the hill, a fellow cancer survivor suggested we go out to one of his favourite haunts, drink a few mugs of beer, get into a fight, and flirt with the women on “ladies night”.

I appreciate all these people. I really do. Some of them are among the most important people in my life and always will be. They’re all trying (in both senses of the word) to be supportive and demonstrate their concern for my wellbeing. But they’re missing something terribly important that I think I need to express. And sometimes I feel like I need to shout it from the rooftops:

“I hate this f…ing cancer! I hate what it’s done to my life, to my plans, to my self esteem, to my hopes and dreams, to my sense of control. I feel betrayed. I need to understand what’s going on, why it’s happening, what to expect next…”

OK. I’ve said it. And I realize that if it wasn’t cancer it would be something else. But it is cancer!


As I read through the material the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada so graciously sent to me recently, I came across a wonderful booklet entitled The Emotional Facts of Life with Cancer: A Guide to Counselling and Support for Patient, Families and Friends. It is a publication of the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology whose first edition was released in February 2003. An online version of the booklet is available at

It seems these people get it. Every cancer patient (I don’t think I should call myself a cancer survivor yet until I’ve paid my dues with treatment) is unique and the way they deal with cancer will be unique. Counsellors who get this use an approach specifically tailored to the unique needs of cancer patients - the technical term for this kind of counselling is psychosocial oncology. They recognize the informational, psychological, social, practical and financial, and spiritual needs and try not to confuse categories too often.

Like hope and concern, there is a flip side to this business of emotional needs; namely, that of caregivers, family and friends – the very people whose attempts to provide support to patients may backfire on them. Perhaps I can be bold enough to suggest to those who love me and are reading my journal:

“Take care of yourself too. I do love you, even when you say things I don’t appreciate or aren’t useful in a specific situation. You are entitled to your feelings and beliefs, to your own sense of loss and helplessness, to your own need for care and concern. I might not be able to help, but there are professionals who can. Just remember that.”

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