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Monday, September 21, 2009

People Believe What They Want to Believe

I am not secretive about having cancer, nor about the fact that I will always have cancer.

Yet so many people are surprised that I "still have cancer."

I don't get it.

What did they think I meant, when I said "I will always have cancer"?

Is "always" finite? Did "forever" end?

People believe what they want to believe. They see the way I look; they see the way I act, and they draw their own conclusions.

They ask how I am doing, and I answer honestly, "I am doing well." Often, I include that I am tired. But most of the time I am fine, and I say so.

That is all most people want to hear. That is all they want to know.

If I was not feeling fine, I would not be out and about. I would be home, maybe even in bed; you would not see me.

People who really want to know how I am doing, check my blog. Or, they ask me specific questions regarding my current treatments.

Most people do not really want to know.

That is OK.

The cognitive dissonence helps my children (and me) maintain an illusion of normalcy. It is not such a big deal to have a mother who "had cancer."

My kids don't have patience for all the well-meaning adults who ask them in an overly compasionate way "mah shlom Ima?" (How is your mother doing?) They wonder why these people do not just ask me themselves, if they really want to know.

Thank God, my kids are polite. So, like me, when asked how I am doing, they tell the truth: I am tired, but I am fine.

Read into that what you will.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


Daria said...

I get so frustrated with the same thing ... people sometimes say the strangest things.

I think it's their way of coping ... and no matter what we say ... they just don't get it. I don't think they can.

Val said...

People don't do well in uncomfortable situations. Human nature is to want everything to fit in a nice comfortable place in our lives.
As we get older, you'd think that we'd realize that things rarely do.
just adapt people. It's easier, the more you do it.

I'm still learning but boy, if I can do it, EVERYONE should be able to do it.

Glad you're out and about and tired. Sounds pretty normal to me! :) Life is tiring!

Anonymous said...

Yes, we're all in denial. When I saw you on the JPost video, I was like "wow! she looks so healthy!" Of course, it was highly unlikely you'd be doing everything you describe on the blog, plus attending the conference, if you weren't physically feeling OK.

Henya said...

I think that people are just trying to protect themselves from other people's pain.
I hear the same thing about my neighbour from someone. I just saw her and she looks OK.
And unfortunately the woman in question is not OK, but de-Nile is not just a river in Egypt.

adena said...

great post! people are always surprised when I say I'm not feeling so great (I try to be honest). They reply: but aren't you done with treatment? I reply: I'm doing a study for 5 years... People don't realize that once you have cancer, you always have it, in a way, either in remission, or you are just a recurrence away from having it again...They just don't understand...

Batya said...

When I went to NY, I met a friend in the airport who has brain cancer, and she said the same.
Is cancer the "new diabetes" or "chemical imbalances" that you learn to live with and control with medical treatment?

Stephanie said...

Rivka..after reading your post..and btw I always read your posts and i adore you..my very close friend HAD leukemia..almost died..had a bone marrow and now it seems he is free of the disease..does that mean that I am mistaken? That he will always have cancer? If by some miracle cancer is gone..does that mean you still have cancer. I may be guilty of thinking the same way as some of your friends..People ask my about my friend and say does he still have cancer..and i spit three times and knock on wood and I believe he doesn't but I am too afraid to say that G-d forbid..but i say he is fine now. Oy..how i hate cancer! btw..when i light my candles on friday night there were a few times i remembered to daven for you Rivka..my name is stephanie..i read you all the time, and i live in florida.

michele said...

I was on the express line (10 items max) in the supermarket before Rosh Hashana and suddenly an elderly couple with a big cart of groceries stepped in front of me. Everyone told them the line was express. The couple replied that they are disabled (the line is also for disable people). They looked just fine but I thought of you, RivkA, and how you can look fine, act fine, but not be fine. Thanks to your blog posts I quietly yielded to them. You are making an impact, RivkA! Michele

Ilana said...

People don't ask you directly for all kinds of reasons, probably -- they forget, it's awkward, they don't know you too well, they can't think of what to say, etc. But if they see your child, they probably feel wrong just ignoring the existence of cancer in their lives, so they feel compelled to say something. And besides, they probably do care a bit, just maybe not on the level of a friend who will call you or maybe they don't like to follow blogs, who knows? That is a possibility.

They probably also want to be reassured by your kids that you are "ok" (whatever that means), because they are scared.

Anonymous said...

Most people do not really want to know.
This is unfortunately so true and applies to a variety of life's aspects.
Val's explanatin makes sense but it is still very unfortunate.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Daria -- yeah. like I said, it's ok. I just find it kind of perturbing (like we live in different dimensions).

Val -- I don't think this is about being uncomfortable. I think it's more of a "you look good, so you must be good" kind of thing.

Tesyaa -- exactly! just remember, I don't usually blog about the days (like today) that I don't get out of bed.... (though I davka planned to post today about just that....)

Henya -- could be.

Adena -- You might enjoy reading my group blog: Mothers with Cancer (the link is on my sidebar). There are many posts about those types of existential questions about surviving cancer.

Muse -- The doctors like to say that cancer has become a chronic condition, like diabetes. One day I will post about why I think the analogy is stupid. The short version is that most diabetes patients do not live under the shadow of death. Do diabetes patients see so many people die of their disease each year??? Within such a short time of diagnosis?? I highly doubt it.

Stephanie -- thank you so much for all your thoughtful questions. I do not know much about Leukemia. You would have to ask your friend what is means for him to be free of the disease. (you might also be able to find that information on-line).

Adena made an important point: once a person has cancer, they are always concerned that the cancer will return, even if they are "cured."

thank you for reaching out and for your prayers!!

Michele -- THANK YOU!!

I always feel everyone's eyes on me, when I park in a handicapped space and then get out of my car. I am sure people think there is nothing wrong with me and I must be using someone else's handicapped parking permit.

I once had a guard actually come and tell me to move my car, even after I showed him my permit!!

I did not do it, but I was tempted to pull out the 24 boxes of pain killers that I had just picked up for that MONTH and wave it in his face! Instead. I complained to the management (who promised to take care of it).

Square Peg -- I'm not talking about people who are just asking about my health. I am talking about people who are SURPRISED that I am STILL in treatment, even though I told them that I would ALWAYS be in treatment.

I think your insight is correct regarding the kids.
My kids are cool about the whole thing, so I am not overly concerned. But it is funny (in a bittersweet way) to hear my youngest mimic that sickly sweet tone that people often use.

Ilanadavita -- yup.

Ilana said...

Maybe people just forget that you told them you'll always be in treatment. I could definitely see myself forgetting a thing like that about someone I don't know well. Or maybe they thought you were kind of exaggerating when you said "always".

RivkA with a capital A said...

Square Peg -- Could be. But I think it is more than that. It is easy to assume we (long term cancer patients) are exaggerating. People have a hard time accepting that someone can be living with cancer, IN TREATMENT, for so long.

This is not a criticism. It is an observation.