Cancer leaves you with a lot of questions that will unfortunately go unanswered. I’ve noticed the biggest game-changer is accepting that those questions become considerations, and eventually confirmations. “How did this happen?” transforms to, “This is happening and I really don’t know why.” Suddenly it’s more sensible because things happen and most of us can’t figure out why, and I think that’s a commonality we can rely on. Life is weird. So after you allow yourself to cry until you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror, drink too much wine, and laugh too loudly at jokes that aren’t funny… You have officially entered the stages of grieving a diagnosis.
1. Befriending Google until 3 a.m.
Search: “Cancer,” press enter, realize that’s far too general to receive a proper answer but keep that tab open (just in case). Now be clear and concise: “My dad has cancer and has never done anything wrong, has anyone else had this experience and how did you cope with it and what happened and HOW CAN I FIX IT?! IS THIS KARMA FOR THE TIME I DIDN’T TAKE THE RIDE WITH HIM TO THE GROCERY STORE WHEN I WAS 5 BECAUSE I WANTED TO PLAY OUTSIDE?!” This activity will make you feel totally at one with the world during the first hour– a whole trove of information for you to dive into with answers and solitude, what could be more comforting? Until the third hour comes along and you’re vigorously reading with your eyes dilated two inches from the screen and that tingling sensation of complete insanity is nudging you along until the sound of the newspaper being delivered doubles your heart rate. Now you have forced a plethora of information into your brain that will intertwine itself with any fear you’ve ever had.
2. Feeling confused and angry
You will do the aforementioned. You will think about it constantly. You will look into people’s eyes, then quickly look away feeling absolutely transparent, wondering if they can see that you’re actually on another planet because you are so disengaged with what’s around you. This will make you angry with the world, and yourself, and leave you wondering, “what the fuck?” You will reestablish yourself a bit, then fall into emotional wreckage, analyze your life, and regret any beat you ever thought you missed. FYI: you didn’t miss a beat if you were doing what you wanted to be doing. Having said that, it’s not wrong of you to NOT be sad all the time. You are not expected to sulk 24/7. If you want to cry; cry. If you want to smile; smile. You are still human.
3. Replaying every moment of your life in detail
Verifying that you have time stamped and documented when you were three years old and your Dad came home with a teddy bear from your Grandma has become a test which you evaluate yourself by. We suddenly come up with the idea that we are invincible creatures who are expected to remember everything we’ve ever done and have unlimited capacity for every feeling, moment, and thought we’ve encompassed. Damnit we should be ashamed of the stages of development when we weren’t acutely analyzing our futures because of these superpowers we now possess. So… I mean obviously, it’d be nice if it was THAT easy to convince yourself otherwise, but take a step back if you need a clear head so you don’t drive yourself nuts. Memories that matter will stay.
4. Saying “______ has cancer” for the first time
I think because cancer has such a stigma of not being discussed even though it’s anywhere the media can touch, we don’t know how to talk about it. We were never taught or nurtured to speak of cancer without dancing around it, without recognizing that it’s real. We try to be supportive, but not TOO supportive… because that might solidify how real it is. I mean, I tried it. I tried not to talk about it at first because I thought it would just go away, and it didn’t. So, eventually, I told people. I was afraid to tell people because every time I say the word, I’ve surrounded myself with orange cones and stuck caution tape across my forehead. Except it isn’t uninhabited, which is the most angering of all. If you’re on the receiving end: be genuine but tactful. Keep listening, understanding, and being present. Let’s make this conversation less intimidating.
5. Accepting the role cancer now has in your life
All cancer sucks, all cancer is shitty, and nobody is excited about it. Say it assertively, loudly, and repetitively. Say how much you hate it… How it infuriates you, how you’d do anything to change it. You are not alone– whether you’re a son, daughter, brother, sister, parent, wife, husband, friend. Recognizing all of the answers may not be immediately or ever apparent will open up the doors to reflect on the emotional and mental years you just confronted by experiencing the above. Not to say that’s easy– it’s a terrifying journey that requires mental endurance. That is what support is for. That’s what expression is for. Build a community. Let people help you along the way; let people listen, let people try. Weed out insincerity, but be open to genuine love and care. Don’t condemn yourself for not understanding it– the contradictions become consistent along with the changes, questions, and decisions. One day will not define the next, but being truthful in each will challenge your ability to accommodate and adjust in ways you never knew were possible. You’ll astound yourself with these strengths and capabilities that will allow you to embrace your utter fear with extreme tenacity.