Why is it my responsibility to make others feel OK about my cancer?

One of the oddest things about having cancer is becoming your own cheerleader.

I expected that the people around me would provide support, and most have, but I find that I’m also providing emotional support to those who are not OK with me not being OK.

And so, as the strong one, as the one who’s always coped, as the one who doesn’t wallow, I’ve stepped up to the plate and placated their fears.

“It’s ok, it’s just a small tumor.”
“It’s fine, at least it was just a lumpectomy.”
“Well it only spread to four lymph nodes, it could have been worse.”

I’ve never been good at asking for help and have prided myself on sorting out my own shit, but I’ve discovered that can push you into a corner.

When you have a reputation for being self-sufficient, people take it for granted that you’ll bounce back.

But like a tennis ball that’s been slammed a few too many times, my bounce is starting to fade.

Chemo isn’t a breeze, but neither has it been as bad as I expected. I’ve lost my hair, but I’ve kept my brows so far, which makes a big difference, and people keep telling me I look well. When I’ve got my wig on and apply a bit of make up I could pass for normal.

But because I look OK, the assumption is that all is well and for those that aren’t handling my illness, it’s an easy out.

Instead of stepping up, it’s easier to not acknowledge that there are days I want to be looked after, cared for and made to feel I’m a priority in the lives of those I love and who are supposed to love me.

I was chatting about this with my breast care nurse who said it’s common that the patient ends up supporting the people around them. I took that on at the start, because I could see that there were those who weren’t dealing with my illness and it made me feel guilty that they had to take on this as well.

But I’m tired now, I’m halfway through chemo and don’t have the energy to be relentlessly positive for other people’s benefit.

When someone asks me how I am, I don’t want to have to filter my response depending on who I’m talking to.

I don’t want my bad mood dismissed as just the result of my epic cocktail of drugs. Yes, chemo makes me irritable, but you are also giving me the shits.

But as sad as it makes me, I’ve realised is that what I need and what some people are capable of giving don’t always match up.

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6 thoughts on “Why is it my responsibility to make others feel OK about my cancer?

  1. Hear hear. I am getting similar reactions too. I have managed to stay at work with only a few days off immediately after chemo so people at work are now thinking I am actually OK all of the time. I find myself answering their “how are you” questions with “Fine thanks” when really I want to tell them no I feel like shit!

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    1. That’s amazing Clare, I’m working from home a few days but not up to going in the office.
      But yes, agree that “fine” just comes out automatically. It’s hard to break the habit and sometimes I get the feeling people would rather you just say it’s fine than find out how you’re really doing.

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      1. I opened my big mouth way too early….. This third FEC has done me in. I have a cough and a cold to top things off and have only managed a few hours in the office to do the wages. But still finding that I am saying fine to people in between coughs and splutters. The few I have said no I feel awful to have done a real quick U turn and are suddenly too busy to talk!!
        Not looking forward to the first ‘T’ in 12 days time!!

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      2. Yep, almost as if you’re contagious because they don’t know what to say.
        I’m done with FEC, starting Docetaxel on Friday so diving back into the unknown. On the plus side, it doesn’t cause nausea but may make my nails fall out. Fun times.

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  2. You read my mind! I too found myself reassuring everyone else and dealing with their tears. As time goes on you stop doing this and realise that it is your time to be taken care of. Chemo is HARD work. Grab all the support you can and dont bother with people that drain you. Life is too short.

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    1. It’s a strange role reversal Liz, but I find I do it so that I don’t get that sympathetic, pitying look which I loathe.
      But I have gotten a lot better at asking for what I need.

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