“how are you?” (by Judy)

“I’m OK,” I respond, not wanting to talk about what’s really going on. What would I say?

“My body is being attacked by some errant cells that are trying to kill it. The only way to treat it is to let poison be pumped into my body. I’m scared. I have to live for my family, especially my son, but there are no guarantees in this.”

I say nothing of the sort. I say I’m OK and I smile and ask how they are. I’m thankful when they take my lead and don’t ask about the cancer, the recurrence. It may be my imagination, but it seems like some are more tentative with me this time which is fine. So far there hasn’t been the boldness of “what’s your prognosis?” like there was the first time when I always danced around the question and never actually answered it because the prognosis my oncologist initially gave me was/is too heartbreaking for me to tell.

I know people notice my scarves, and I’m pretty sure they know what they mean, but I’m glad they don’t broach the subject. It’s easier for me to ignore it with most people except for a very few. It’s nothing personal against anyone. But I’m emotional these days and I don’t want to spend my days — especially my workdays — breaking down time and again.

It’s easier for me to talk and ignore it this time around. I don’t feel the need to tell people about my treatment, my feelings about this (royally pissed), or anything, really. That way I save myself the trouble of hearing incredibly well-intentioned but wearying platitudes. I don’t have to hear how having a positive attitude is the most important thing while I wonder to myself silently, “Does that mean that if I die, it will be my fault?”

A friend I was in a cancer support group with picked Energy Boy and I up from the airport Tuesday. On the way home EB said, “you said if it came back, it would be a long time before it did.” “I did say that, didn’t I?, I asked him. “I’m sorry, EB; I was wrong.”

My heart broke a little for my still-young son. And for me.

How am I? I’m OK . . . for someone with my condition, my disease.

“OK” really means that sometimes I want to hide from the world. That I don’t want to say much. That I wish I didn’t have to work through this, but that I have no choice. That I’m scared and angry. That I’m struggling. That I just can’t tell people how I really am because even if it’s physically noticeable that I’m sick, I sometimes just want to ignore it.

So I’m . . . well, not fine; not really. I’m OK, just OK, and that is often as good as it gets . . . but let’s not talk about that.

Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


5 Responses to “how are you?” (by Judy)

  1. Jillian says:

    Your words nail it yet again. These thoughts and emotions resonate with me – hard. And the reaction to being told to think positively – that is mine too. I’m with you Judy. But i won’t talk about it.

  2. Judy,
    I sympathize with your feelings. My children were 1, 3 and 5 years old when I was originally diagnosed (1990). Two years later I had my first recurrence.

    In the early years of my survivorship, I struggled with hearing and answering the question, “How ARE you?” Since it was an everyday challenge, I invested considerable time and emotion working my way through to insights that helped me understand why the question disturbed me so. I also found answers that help me respond in healing ways for me.

    I summarized my approach to “Surviving ‘How are You?'” here: http://tinyurl.com/LLS-How-are-You

    I hope you find this useful.
    With hope, Wendy

  3. I’ve always felt that people that say “How are you” don’t REALLY want to know. It’s too much to handle.

    This part…”you said if it came back, it would be a long time before it did.” “I did say that, didn’t I?, I asked him. “I’m sorry, EB; I was wrong.”–heartbreaking. The simple fact of you saying that you were wrong is so powerful.
    I’m always afraid to tell my kids that it may come back every time they say that I am cured.
    I totally understand your silence the second time around–I think I would do the same thing. -people should just to you, “You know, it just sucks, and I’m here to listen.” rather than “how are you” –leaving the option open for you to elaborate or not.

  4. annie says:

    Oh don’t get me started on the “you have to stay positive” people. I refuse to accept that if this disease kills me it’s my fault. I truly believe that tumor growth doesn’t happen just because we aren’t upbeat enough about it!

    Whatever answer works for you – to the how are you question – is the one you should go with. It can be far too exhausting making everyone else more comfortable.

  5. Jill says:

    Ugh. I wish there were some kind of lighting system you could use, Judy: (red = don’t ask about it, yellow = be alert and look for clues that I really want to talk about it, green = ask about it, but use tact, compassion and common sense). In the absence of that, you’re plan is a good one. Say ok, smile and ask how they are. But here on this blog, you can say exactly how you are, and we’ll all get it.



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