I recently had a very interesting conversation with another breast cancer patient who has been working very hard to educate her family and friends about her disease. I really appreciated her efforts to provide information to them so that they would become responsible for their own medical advocacy. But, when we finished our conversation, I couldn’t help but think about my own situation and the fact that I knew nothing about breast cancer when I was diagnosed. After all, my father had died from lung cancer after never having smoked a day in his life and my brother died from liver cancer on the operating table during his 12th cancer-related surgery. So why did I not seek more information about cancer and my own possible vulnerabilities?
To use energy in fear of what might happen is of no value to anyone. After all, how many times have you been afraid of something that never happened and wished that you would not have wasted your time and energy of the matter.Barbara Jacoby
I would like to think that it was because the information that would allow for a person to do so just wasn’t available at the time that my father died and there was only a very limited amount that was accessible when my brother died just 10 years ago. Even when I was diagnosed, there was not even enough info available for me to research with regard to my own diagnosis. But, I stepped back a bit further and upon honestly assessing my own behavior, I realized that their cancer diagnoses just plain scared the daylights out of me. And also, for the first time, I understood how a person might actually distance themselves from such news when delivered to them by a loved one.
I remember my last visit home for Christmas and seeing my father after chemo for the first time in a year just days before he died on January 2nd. I was shocked, overwhelmed and completely unprepared for what I encountered. So, when I learned about my brother’s diagnosis just two years later that started a rollercoaster of advancing first to his lung and then to his spine, etc., I honestly was grateful that we lived at opposite ends of the country because I didn’t know how to react in any way except emotionally. And this played a very big part in my behavior when I was diagnosed and made the decision not to share the information with anyone in my family, except for my husband, until after my surgery was done. My thinking was that they couldn’t do anything to help me so why scare them with the news!
I can never express how grateful I will forever be to my husband who could have chosen to distance himself from me on so many levels if he had chosen to do so. And though I would not have understood it at that
time, in retrospect, I truly understand how and why this may be a person’s choice and the reason that a mental professional should be a part of any patient’s team. Not only is such a person of utmost importance to the patient but is truly needed by every person around the patient who is emotionally affected by the diagnosis.
I can’t help but think that even today if I was being diagnosed for the first time that I would be mostly clueless. Even after my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, we decided not to undergo genetic testing as we did not want to go looking for potential problems, already knowing that we do not carry the BRCA genes.
Let’s be honest – cancer is scary to most people. Having been at both ends of the spectrum, I must honestly say that, for me, it is harder to learn about the diagnosis for someone else than it was to learn about my own. I became very focused on dealing with my treatment and what needed to be done in order to bring about the best outcome on a completely logical level. But, when the diagnosis is that of someone else, I find myself still initially reacting and dealing on a mostly emotional level. This has allowed for an understanding that regardless of how someone chooses to deal with cancer, either their own or that of another, I understand.
No matter your choice, I will support you with either the medical info that you need to know or the emotional support that you may need, or both, as help is always needed and available at both levels. However, I prefer to live my life and enjoy today and never go looking for what might happen in the future. To use energy in fear of what might happen is of no value to anyone. After all, how many times have you been afraid of something that never happened and wished that you would not have wasted your time and energy of the matter. Truly, the same thing applies to cancer and to every other disease that may never come your way so why study up on a non-existent condition unless or until you need the information?
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.