I’m Allowed

A very special thanks to Tumblr buddy lux-fiam, who guided me as I struggled with this post, and to my IRL spoonie/fake psychiatrist/professor friend, with whom I fight The Overwhelming.  

For the people who say “thanks for this.”

This post is about allowing myself and encouraging others to do cancer any way we damn well please.

Just prior to starting this blog, and in the hazy days of bouncing back from the treatment side effects, I was in a bit of a depression. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had no time or energy to find blogs while I was actively in treatment and working my ass off. During treatment I was not happy with the rah-rah/pink/warrior culture that was the most prevalent form of support available (except in the diagnosed-under-40 support group, thank goodness). After I made some life changes, I was pleased to finally be able to take some time and dig around and find blogs or articles that said some of the thoughts that were more like mine, and I began blogging to interact a bit.

Around the same time I found other blogs, I had an epiphany. I was at some event last autumn with other cancer patients and expressing some anger. A fellow attendee started suggesting stress reduction methods, telling me that I must “accept” my cancer and ended her pseudo-lecture with “you can’t be angry all the time.” I was just so sick of this type of lecture; it wasn’t the first time I’d heard words of that nature. And BTW, I don’t think people mean the dictionary definition of “accept” when they tell me to do that; I think they really mean “shut up and sit down”.

There I was, a 40-year-old woman, being talked down to like a 6-year-old, because, being, ahem, a couple decades younger than most in the room, I was the youngster, the newbie; never mind I’d finished treatment already. I was not a cancer expert (and still am not), but I wasn’t a novice either, for crying out loud.

Then it hit me—why was I even listening? I can be angry if I want! I probably thought those sentences in the petulant voice of the 6-year-old me, but the minute I did, half the anger just fell away. And it continues to fall away still. By giving myself permission to be angry, sad, frustrated, etc., I become less so, especially with each post I write. Sure, anger & other bad company are still there, but in a weakened and more useful way–they inspire and motivate me, to speak up or write these posts. Whether they should be posted and sent into the blogosphere—I’ll get to that in a minute.

While I get that people who say “think positive/cheer up” and that sort of thing are well-intentioned, maybe even trying to help—the result for me is the opposite. I just get more pissed off, because in my mind, my feelings are being diminished, dismissed, blown off. That never feels good. Cancer sucks, but being told how to do cancer sucks too. Part of the crapfest that is cancer is the culture around it (especially true in breast cancer), and the culture demands conformity, and as I’ve said in previous posts, I cannot do conformity. It is great that the normal, socially acceptable warrior/pink/rah-rah methods work for the majority of folks, I can respect that. I’ve seen people swallow negativity and wondered if they could achieve better peace by letting it out, but it is not my place to tell them what to do. And I don’t want to be told what to do/how to handle cancer either.

This blog is to escape and to challenge all of the bullshit in the warrior cancer/don’t worry, be happy world that just does not ring true for me. Here, I express my thoughts in my way, no matter if they are angry, or blunt, or whatever other unpleasant adjectives can be applied to them. Here, I express my experiences of cancer without (much) self-censorship. My professional life before 2012 was very constricting, so I wanted a space where the rules, limits, deadlines, ideas were mine alone. This is that space.

I think many would tell me I should keep my ugly thoughts to myself; I should stop sending negativity out into the universe, or blogosphere. But my challenge to that attitude is this: why is expressing negative feelings automatically considered a negative action—why can it not be viewed as a positive, “working through it” technique, which is kind of the point of a lot of therapy? How can bad feelings be turned around if not confronted, if they are constantly submerged, denied, hidden politely away? And most of all, why is it assumed that expressing negativity means the one expressing it is negative on the whole, and somehow not capable of experiencing other emotions (sometimes simultaneously)?

My blogs are not read by many, but the few comments I’ve gotten here or on the other blog tend to say “thanks”, and some variation of “I thought I was the only one who felt that/this is what I’ve been trying to say.” So while many hear/read thoughts that make them uncomfortable (which might be behind some of the “get happy” suggestions rather than a desire to really help), those same thoughts provide comfort to a few. I remember all too well last October not knowing what search terms to use to find people with opinions similar to mine, and I remember all too well how relieved I was to stumble, bass-ackwards, onto blogs that did express such opinions. So if my blog is just one more place someone can stumble upon and find relief, then my own victory over anger & company is nearly complete. I hope your victory can be found here too.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

23 thoughts on “I’m Allowed”

      1. I have printed out both above responses and feel like handing them out to family and friends and saying “see, it’s OK for me to still be angry and feel like this.” I am vindicated!

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      2. I am learning to keep my mouth shut and my thoughts about what is happening to me because, clearly, no one wants to listen…however, I always listened…still don’t get it..

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  1. dear CC,

    this is one of the very BEST posts I’ve ever read on your blog. the questions you ask are absolutely cogent and relevant. the situations you describe when you have been labeled because of YOUR OWN feelings are a stark reminder that many people invest in too many knee-jerk reactions to feelings that make them uncomfortable, instead of trying to empathize and understand where they are coming from. my guess it that those very same people who chastise you for your anger are the very ones who are also angry but haven’t got the balls to express it – probably due to the over-hyped and oh, so damaging image of ” how cancer should be done” really people – it’s the 21st century. have we not learned anything about the repercussions of suppressing feelings can hamper and injure our minds and our bodies? to express feelings of anger and frustration is liberating, it can also be a part of healing, and can often bring about change with what we are angry and frustrated about. I say, keep those knees from jerking, stop and listen, then offer support, even ask questions, and be honest about your own feelings. it takes a lot more energy than making a quick and inappropriate judgment, but it may lead to a much needed dialogue about the where/when/why/how anger about so many cancer issues is justified.

    CC, I know you staying true to yourself is paramount, and it should be. take heart, my dear friend, there are many more for you than agin’ you. keep writing your truth, your story, and your feelings – I and many others hear you, and are grateful for your voice in the blogosphere.

    much love and thanks for your indomitable determination to call things as you see them,

    Karen, TC

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    1. Thank you SO MUCH Karen. Yes it is worrisome that there seems to be a culture of repressing feelings for the comfort of others; to maintain polite societal conventions. I honestly did not set out to cause discomfort. But I’d rather be honest and strive for well being (not just for myself, but for all), than worry about keeping up a polite conversations.
      Be well, thinking of you!

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      1. Well, I will be attending a picnic with a group of people who neither sent flowers to me in hospital or even a card and haven’t called – not a one. Should be interesting…I can already see the sideways glances..but I can guaranty I will be alone, with the exception of my husband, who BETTER stay with me!!! LOL!!! Only one person ever came up to me, and it was at a funeral, and she was so uncomfortable to approach me, but I really admired her courage to do it in front of all the “others”.

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  2. In my life aside from Blogging I am also a counsellor and a large part of my work is with patients who have cancer via the Cancer Council here in Sydney.. You cannot believe the number of times they tell me ..”everyone expects me to be positive but I can’t be” … You are so right to say let them have their feelings and in their way …. anger is a part of life.. Let it out I say.. Stamp your feet, shout, scream, punch the pillow or as you do vent in a blog… If you suppress true feeling they will harm you more… In time things become calmer but I believe only when each individual is ready… I live your honesty…Helen xx

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    1. So many bloggers I read seem to have a background in mental health professions! I do not, but my current and previous job both put me in contact with many in the field. In fact, I used to arrange annual events with mental health professionals examining peculiarities of human behavior…which left me more confounded about human behavior rather than enlightened, ha ha.
      It saddens me to hear what your patients say. But I get it. I can vent on my blog but am more careful in person, especially with some local support groups. I tend to just walk away rather than rock the boat. But the boat needs rocking.

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      1. I think that mental health professionals are the only ones who people with serious medical conditions can vent to without being judged…that’s where I am now – my therapist is the only one who listens with compassion and doesn’t tell me to be quiet (and it’s not just cos she’s being paid!!! LOL!) and even if that was the reason, at least I can get it out in the her office and not have to carry it around with me.

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  3. I’m reading this six months late, but so glad that I did! I’m doing cancer ‘my way’ no matter who doesn’t like it. I’ve dumped family members since my whole cancer crap, and I have not regretted it one day!

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    1. Ha ha no such thing as “late”. One thing I’m learning as I blog is that some things I’ve written several months ago stay relevant, and sadly, some things in Cancerland do not change as much as I’d like. In fact, in light of the recent Keller issues, I find that a post a wrote in Sept 2013 has everything to do with what is going on in discussions in Jan 2014.
      So glad you enjoyed this post. It is freeing, isn’t it, to just do cancer your own way?!

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  4. This is one of my all-time favorites. It reminds me of a time I was at a support group meeting and we went around the table and were supposed to share one way in which we were now supposedly a better person post diagnosis. When it was my turn, I said, wait a minute, I am not going to say I am a better person since cancer in any way, shape or form. That did not go over well… There is so much BS out there in Breast Cancer Land that it boggles my mind sometimes. And expressing one’s truths does not mean the person is ungrateful, being negative or whatever. It means she’s being honest. But of course, you know my feelings on this topic. Yes, you are definitely allowed. We all are. Thanks for re-sharing this gem.

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    1. what amazes is how often this message needs to be repeated! I fantasize lately about an alternate goody bag–not like the ones I got when I got dx–you know with tissues and hand sanitizer and “inspiring” crap. I want this message that I’ve written here to be the goody bag — at least for grumpy cat patients like myself. It would’ve made my experience easier grrrr

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