Thursday, June 2, 2011

Advice From Someone Who Knows

When my Mom suggested I use the internet to meet fellow melanoma warriors, I had no idea how important of a role they would play in my oh-so-dramatic new life. We are each others cheerleaders, advice givers, and sometimes we are each others kick-in-the-ass. It is true that people who have not experienced cancer first hand have a difficult time understanding exactly what a cancer diagnosis means. Prior to the diagnosis, you worry about how you are going to buy a house, raise your babies, save for retirement. Once you hear the word "cancer" associated with your name, gone are the fears of how you are going to do it. Instead, you are desperate to be able to try to do it! No, I do not know everything about these friends. I don't know their high school sweetheart or their daily habits, but I know some of their deepest fears, darkest memories, and their latest scan results. Instead of cocktails, we bond over cancer.

We pray for each other. We advise each other. We have been known to shed tears of joy over the slightest bit of happy news. Oh, and when the bad times roll around? We "get" it. Sometimes I feel like it is harder for me to hear bad news about one of my melanoma buddies than it is to hear my own bad news. Maybe I get too wrapped up into their situations, I am not sure, but in the back of my head, there is always the thought, "Am I picturing what my life will be like down the road?"  Despite my own personal fears, I continue to pull for them. When I say that I would have lost my sanity by now without these people, it could not be more true. 

...which is why when my melanoma buddies give me great advice, I feel like I need to share it with everyone else who may be going through a similar situation. Following my last blog post, and I'm sure he has seen me mention it before, my friend (and fellow blogger: Rich sent me this message regarding my "woe is me" attitude:

"One of the unreasonable expectations put on cancer patients (expectations of people who DON'T have cancer and are clueless) is that we're supposed to be relentlessly positive and upbeat. Even when we feel lousy from treatment effects and we have upcoming scary medical events on our calendar. You're on an emotional and physical roller coaster ride with inevitable low points, and you needn't apologize to people in your life who can't deal with the dips. We all have our "woe is me" moments (yikes, we're human), and it seems to me that you do a very good job of pulling yourself out of the low points. Cut yourself some slack and forgive yourself for your bad days."

*Thank you, Rich.

Coming from someone who has some experience, being positive non-stop is exhausting. It is draining. It is FAKE. I have bad days. I have days where the slightest comment or the tannest (Is that a word?) person will infuriate me. I have days when I look at my friends and their newborn babies and pray I have the opportunity to have my own babies & raise them to have their own babies. (Yes, I plan to stick around for a while.) Then there are days when I could not be happier for the life that I have been given. Sure, I have a heck of a lot going on right now, hello cancer! hello break-up!, but I feel an odd sense of peace. I am realizing what I want out of this life that I have been given. For that, I am thankful.

Thanks to my confidence, and some back-up support from my melanoma buddy Rich, I will roll my eyes at the person who was fed up with my "woe is me" attitude. As Rich said, I needn't apologize to the people in my life who can't deal with the dips. The dips are all parts of this crazy thing we call life.

To Anne, Erin, Evy, Christina (x2!), Brandi, Becca, Rich, John, Paul, Kathy, Kate, Tim, and my other "unknown cheerleaders"
You are more than "melanoma buddies."
You are my friends.
You let me complain & vent,
and you sure as hell make me laugh,
and you're never afraid to give me a brutally honest answer.
You keep me sane.
And I, 
would be a depressed,
paranoid, (more so!)
lonely lady
without each and every one of you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Rachel Oxhorn said...

Love this post! It's true that no one truly "gets it" unless they have cancer themselves. I consider myself pretty positive despite my lymphoma but if I'm having bad, bitchy days it's like people are surprised by it which gets super annoying. Some days I don't want to be around anyone or talk about cancer, it gets tiring. We have big challenges to face, therefore we are allowed to feel "woe is me" whenever we want!

Tim said...

I know you didn't intend this as a place for a "You know what bugs me" tirade, but I'm going to share my latest pet-peeve anyway...

The current bane of my existence? People who are too positive about my odds when I'm not... I feel like I'm generally handling all of this pretty darn well, but when someone interrupts my funk with a "You're going to beat this thing" or "You're going to outlive us all"...

(I swear, one of these days I'm going to snap and definitely beat and/or outlive THAT person!)

Nobody ever seemed to have a problem understanding that I have bad days now and then BEFORE I was diagnosed... That's one of the reasons I so often fantasize about having never told anyone.

(Obviously, that's just a thought that goes through my head on my bad days now. I'd clearly be in a world of hurt if I hadn't told anyone. This isn't the kind of thing you deal with on your own)

You're obviously right, people have absolutely no idea about what we're going through unless they're in this crappy boat themselves. At the same time, they don't know what they don't know so it's hard to fault them when it's so clear they're trying to be supportive.

(at least, it's hard to fault them to their face... I do it in my head almost continuously)

What has helped me handle it a bit better recently is the unpleasant fact that I was actually in THEIR shoes a couple years ago when my parents were each diagnosed with cancer. As much as I tried to do the right thing throughout their ordeal, I cringe at the fact that so many of the things that annoy the hell out of me now are things that I put them through. I know that I was doing my best to be helpful and supportive of people that I loved so much, but it makes me terribly sad to know that I wasn't as successful as I wanted to be. I've gotten better about ignoring other peoples mistakes because I know that I was trying to help... I clearly didn't know what my parents were going through, but I TRIED to put myself in their shoes... Unfortunately, I'm in the position now to know that I didn't understand at all.

The main thing was that I was trying though; Just as all of our friends and family are trying to do for us.

(Sorry, no advice for you on the tanners... I say scorn away on them)

My heart's breaking for you Chelsea. I understand all too well the ups and downs of this thing as well as the strain this puts on relationships. You've had a really rough string here the past couple weeks and I'm really hoping that things brighten up for you soon; Not for us or for those that don't understand what you're going through... for you.

Please - when you get your next little glimmer of happiness or feel a small smile on your face, take a few minutes to be absolutely and completely selfish. Go ahead and tell everyone to leave you alone for a bit... make the world wait... it doesn't matter what's going on, just take some time to dive into whatever positive thing you're experiencing; stretching it and milking it for all it's worth.

(Because you've earned it, you need it, and most of all, because you deserve it Chelsea)


cratliff73 said...

Great Blog! I was diagnosed with Melanoma 2 years ago - thankfully it was caught early and surgery took care of it before it got past stage I. However, even thought it was an early stage, the fear of being told you have cancer is overwhelming. And I constantly have the fear in the back of my mind that it is lurking somewhere in body just waiting to come back again and that one of the hundred moles I have is going to change into melanoma. I have 3 kids and I now thank God every day I get to spend with them and don't take it for granted that I will have tomorrow.
I met some of the most amazing people on the internet - through facebook - who were (and are) going through the same thing as me. We have bonded over melanoma and I can at least say that melanoma did something good - it brought these amazing people into my life. They are a tremendous source of support and encouragement. Keep fighting - and on your good and bad days, your friends will always be there for you! Hugs!

Kate said...

I love what you are saying in this post. It is absolutely true and I'm so glad your good friend reminded you of this. From "woe is me" moments come "pick yourself up moments" and moments of strength and enlightenment. The dips are all part of the journey and you are more than entitled to lull in one of the dips whenever you feel like it. Acknowledging the down times and indulging in those feelings is genuine, real and necessary (even if you don't have cancer). Although I've never met you I am very inspired by your journey and wish you the best, through the hills and valleys of melanoma and your life in general. You have such a great spirit and an inner strength and a strong support network of friends and strangers alike :)

Marsha said...

Please please please let this work... I've been trying all day! Hi Chelsea, it's perfectly ok to feel down every now and again (or even permanently) and one of the best pieces of research I read about dealing with cancer is that being miserable really has no effect on the outcome, it just make you a bit of a pain in the bum to be around!

You'd think after trying so hard to post something, I'd be a bit more profound...perhaps I would have been 12 hours ago!

Sending loads of love from across the pond!

Chelsea said...

Thank you all for the comments on this post. Although they always mean a lot to me, they were extremely special this time. I have this fantasy that one day we will all be celebrating our good health in person. Until then, we have the internet!

Tim, you always know exactly what to say. I hope you don't mind but I shared part of your comment on my Facebook page.

"Please - when you get your next little glimmer of happiness or feel a small smile on your face, take a few minutes to be absolutely and completely selfish. Go ahead and tell everyone to leave you alone for a bit... make the world wait... it doesn't matter what's going on, just take some time to dive into whatever positive thing you're experiencing; stretching it and milking it for all it's worth."

Maybe we should all live this way sometimes.

Again, thank you all! Always sending lots of love, good juju and prayers your way.

Becca D. said...

You are amazing! I loved this post!