It’s All Relative

Being a wannabe writer sometimes makes blogging difficult. It makes you think about the delivery as just as important as the actual message. I’ve been struggling with what to write for this post. I kind of know what I want to convey, but I just can’t figure how to convey it. So if you’ll pardon me, I’m just going to write. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but hopefully I’ll get my message out.

As anybody who has visited this website knows by now, these blog contributors are a bunch of incredible moms. We each have very different stories to tell – different cancer, different treatment, different prognosis, different stages of parenting. But we all have the commonality of an insidious, life-threatening disease.

I’ve always considered myself a minimalist. What I mean by that is I tend to minimize my situation. I always know there is someone worse off than I am. How can I complain about running out of hot water in the shower when there are millions of people without clean water to even drink? How can I complain about my dry, overcooked chicken when there are millions of people without food every day? How can I complain about having cancer when there are thousands of women with much worse prognoses than me? But I do complain. About the cold water, about the less than tasty dinner, and about my woes as a cancer patient and survivor. And sometimes I feel guilty.

I read Andrea’s latest post today and it broke my heart. I don’t know her, but I see such a gentle spirit and such a graceful soul when I read her posts. And such bravery! She truly sees the end of her mortal life and she’s okay with it. Those around her – not as much. I’ve always thought I’m not afraid to die, but I didn’t want to hurt those who love me. That’s always been a thought or a concept, but for Andrea it’s become a reality. How can I lament what I’ve been through when she’s going through the worst case scenario right now?

And yet what I’ve been through was hard. I’ve had a lot of residual issues since completing two rounds of chemotherapy in November of 2005. I’ve had inexplicable rashes and blisters; insane estrogen levels resulting in painful Zoladex injections and ultimately a total hysterectomy; a 40 pound weight gain due to chemo steroids, high dose steroids for the rashes, the Zoladex – which all worked to give me munchies to rival a Cheech and Chong doobie bender – and the changes in metabolism from a hysterectomy. I’ve had the pleasure of going through menopause not once, but twice. My tongue swells up every time my white count gets too low, which is still a fairly regular occurrence, and I occasionally get thrush from that. I have considerable stiffness in my joints and muscles – a common side effect of the Taxotere I was given. My oncologist told me it could last up to five years after my last treatment. Then she said it may never go away. And just last night I wistfully wished I could lay sprawled on my stomach like I used to, but since the reconstruction it’s just too uncomfortable.

It all sounds so petty and ridiculous when up against a real life and death situation. But I’ve learned it’s all relative. Just like with my kids. They’re good kids, but they’re still kids. On the one hand I’m thrilled they’re not getting into trouble and drinking or smoking or robbing convenience stores. On the other hand getting an “F” in high school band is totally unacceptable. I mean, if you’re going to get an “F” get it in something like calculus, not band for cryin’ out loud! Especially if you’re a fairly accomplished musician. Know what I’m sayin’? (I am happy to say he brought it up to a final grade of B. Lucky for him!)

I don’t say that to minimize the harsher realities of cancer and recurrence and mets. However difficult my life has been made from cancer, there are others whose lives I can’t begin to imagine. But the fact remains my life has been forever altered because of the cancer. While some of the changes may possibly be reversed, others are permanent – my new normal.

The lives of my husband and my children have been changed forever as well. They have a comparatively healthy wife and mom, but there was a loss of innocence that they’ll never get back. There’s now the knowledge that it really can happen to us. Are the rashes a type of cancer? Is the excessive bleeding due to cancer? Is the high estrogen level an indication of cancer? Every time something new and strange comes up that’s everyone’s first thought. Most of the time unspoken, but it’s there.

The intent of this post is not to say, “See! I deserve sympathy, too!” I’m past the rough stuff and it’s time to make my experience count for something. I guess what I’m trying to get across is that if you are dealing with cancer of any kind but have a great prognosis, don’t minimize it. It is your reality right now. You can pretty much be assured that somebody somewhere is going through something much worse. But that doesn’t make what you’re going through easy. Get sad, get mad, cry, whine, let people take care of you. Then do the best you can. But know you’ll go through the emotions again. And that’s okay.

8 Responses to It’s All Relative

  1. jillaldrich says:

    Jen! I am so happy to be here with you! I’ve missed you and your acid humor!

    This post is vintage Jen: You take a difficult topic and bring it to life by being totally honest, totally compassionate and totally human.

    I, too, struggle with guilt and feel my heart break when I read of moms like Andrea and Jenni B. who are in the fight of their lives. But, I’ve realized something by reading your post and thinking about it. And that is that I believe we can feel grief for those women who are struggling mightily–and–we can feel grief for our own lesser but still very real losses. I think we can hold both in our hearts at the same time–without one diminishing the other. Instead, holding both makes us stronger. If that makes any sense at all…

    Love you!


  2. Dorky Dad says:

    That’s a really good point: maybe someone else is going through something worse — and no matter what the situation, there usually is someone in worse shape — but that doesn’t mean whatever it is you’re going through isn’t tough. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

  3. bcjenster says:

    Jill – it makes perfect sense and I think is what I was trying to get out. Except you said it really well in a short amount of time. lol

    DD – Thank you and you’re welcome! It’s something I’ve always struggled with.

  4. Sarah S. says:

    I have all of those feeling everyday. My doctor said to me once. This is your own cancer story and yours alone. he was right everyone has a different story some are worse than others but it is your experience.

  5. Sherry says:

    I concur with your post and the comments here — it is our own story and we need never make less of it, no matter what others are or have experienced. Sometimes I talk about my breast cancer and the way I talk about it I think “I’m really downplaying this” — that has been my way from the start. Mostly because I have never wanted to give cancer a bigger stage than it wanted…I’m stingy that way!

  6. imstell says:

    Jen – So true. There is always someone worse off than us. When I would tell people that, they would cluck their tongues at me and tell me “when others said those words it was usually ME they were talking about.” LOL.

    But isn’t just a matter of perspective?

    I actually consider myself one of the lucky ones. Sure, I had an extremely rare and deadly form of breast cancer. Sure, I have a very high risk of recurrence. But, my cancer is gone. It’s been gone for 20 months. I had little, if any, side effects from my treatment. I was trong enough to fend it off relatively easily. I will be again. And again after that if necessary.

    And then there is Andrea. Why was HER cancer metastasized when found and mine not? Why her 6 kids left alone and not my 2? I don’t tend to ask “why me” but rather, “why NOT me”?

    All I know is that I feel, for the first time in my life, truely motivated to action. I’ve always known I would make a fine Bad Example!

  7. Awesome post. I tend to be a minimizer, too…And, we’ve all been given our lives for a reason. Whatever it is–I may never be clear on how I luck out on this, but not that, but I guess I’m glad I don’t know. One day at a time.

    I adore you so. xxxooogretchen

  8. laurie says:

    What you have experienced does sound terribly hard and you are allowed to say that. I don’t think – “she has no right, I have mets!” Hard is hard.
    And whether someone else has suffered more or less than I have makes not a whit of difference to my health. Having cancer sucks – and regardless of prognosis or side effects, we each have the right to feel and express that.
    Thanks for a terrific post!

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