Every day I’m reminded that everyone is unique. We all hear/see information and respond to it in different ways. For example, I’ve read someone’s minutes and wondered if we were in the same meeting. I’ve looked at a poster with a motivational saying on it and thought it was apt, while someone else looked at the same poster and referred to it as BS (her words/letters not mine). I’ve thought something was funny that someone else found sad.
Since I don’t want to believe that I’m a sick individual, I prefer to think that people can see and hear the same thing and interpret it totally differently because we are unique individuals and already have preconceived ideas and expectations about any given topic. Once we have an opinion, we look for reinforcement that our opinion is correct. For example, if someone believes there are a lot more people driving red cars this year, that person is more likely to notice red cars than someone who believes that there are more blue cars on the road.
The same is true for cancer. Each person has a unique take on the experience. There is no right or wrong way to handle a diagnosis and the subsequent treatments, but sometimes I get the sense that I didn’t do cancer right. I didn’t respond to the experience the way that most people may have expected.
I didn’t respond by getting angry, crying or yelling that life was NOT fair. I never said, “Why me?” Instead I thought, “Why not me?” There was nothing I'd done that made me less deserving of a cancer diagnosis than the next person. In fact, no one deserves cancer. No one knows the exact combination of circumstances that will result in a cancer diagnosis. All we can do is take the steps necessary to minimize the risk of cancer, but there are no guarantees.
I wasn't devastated when I received my cancer diagnosis. Instead, I just accepted the news and was glad I finally knew what I was dealing with. I was almost clinical. My focus was more on next steps and getting rid of the cancer than on me and my feelings about the situation.
While I didn’t find cancer funny, I did see the humour in things. This is just who I am and what comes naturally. For example, when I had my mastectomy, I said I was a half-rack dishwasher. I referred to surgery, chemo and radiation as the party-pack of treatments. I once told an intern that I should have had my breast removed ages ago because I got so many compliments on the scar.
Yes, I actually said these things.
No one expected to hear these types of comments; however, there are women who have had breast cancer who will think my comments are extremely funny. There are people who haven’t had cancer who will feel guilty for laughing at my tongue-in-cheek comments. There are also women who have had or currently have breast cancer who will believe that my comments are totally inappropriate and offensive. They may even believe that my comments minimize the seriousness of a cancer diagnosis. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I recognize that cancer is serious business. I realize that I'm not home-free just because I’ve finished my treatments. The thought of a recurrence is never far away and I believe that I won’t truly know if I’m a cancer survivor until I die from something unrelated. Every new symptom (for example, back pain or persistent cough) makes me wonder if my cancer has returned in a new location (metastasized). In fact, I could live at the doctor’s office if I went there every time I felt fear. I could also delay a diagnosis of a recurrence because I don't go to see the doctor. It’s almost a no-win situation. It’s not easy to find the right balance.
However, instead of living in fear, I choose to associate laughter with cancer as you can see in my website name (www.laughterandcancer.com) and the name of my book (When Cancer Takes Flight…A humourous look at the turbulence of breast cancer). I choose to look for the positive in things. I choose to laugh.
In addition to learning that laughter works for me, I've learned that:
Each cancer is unique just like the responses to it. There is no one answer when it comes to determining what's the right thing to say and do. The best we can do is to be patient with each other and recognize that everyone is different. There really is no one right way to deal with cancer.
Hey, maybe I didn't do cancer wrong.
Over 30-years of writing experience, over five years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.