Cancer doesn’t just happen to the person who has it. It happens to everyone around the person who has it. It’s happening to my kids, who keep asking if my cancer is gone yet, and why I have to quit my job, and why I can’t come play with them when I am chemo’d out or sore and tired after surgery. It’s happening to The Hubs, is now dealing with the overwhelming task of being a father, holding down a full time job, and being a patient advocate. And it’s happening to my friends and family, who are terrified of losing me and want me to be OK.
The reality of that, for me, is that I am finding myself alternating between propping up all the people in my life with my sunny disposition about all this, and collapsing at home in a pile of tears from the stress. I think it’s because I want my friends and family to be OK about as much as they want me to be OK. So, I am putting on a brave face as much as I can, not just because it’s getting me through the cancer, which it is, but because I know it helps everyone else get through the cancer. Because cancer is happening to them too.
Before cancer, when stuff happened and I needed to lean on someone, I would take off my brave face to my husband in particular, or to a few other family and close friends. But now, those are the people who are suffering from the cancer too. So I have to be careful about choosing who I lean on, and when, to make sure I don’t knock them over. Because, cancer is happening to them too.
I also learned in the NICU that you have to think carefully about who you take your mask off for, because some people you thought would hold you up, are actually going to step away when you try to lean on them, and you’ll fall even harder. Crisis can bring out both the best and worst in people, and if you choose someone in whom it brings out the worst, you will regret it. And it’s not because that person who stepped away is a bad person. Cancer is happening to them too.
But I also have to remind myself that in all my forgiving of people’s failures, and putting on of brave faces, that I have a terrible habit of taking care of the people around me, instead of taking care of myself, and I just can’t do that right now. So, I have been asserting my needs more plainly, and I have stopped trying to prop up the people around me as much. And that is really hard, and scary, but necessary. Because most of all, cancer is happening to me.