Many bloggers I read here in CancerLand speak of how their mother and/or other relatives had breast cancer–or how there was NO cancer history at all, cementing their shock at their own diagnosis. I always viewed my own story as a bit odd: my maternal grandmother, her sister, and her youngest daughter (my aunt), all had breast cancer. Then me, too.
One would think, that with a mother, a younger sister, and an only daughter getting breast cancer within months of each other, my own mother would rocket into the doctor’s office, demand screenings. Nope. My mother refused my numerous requests that she at least get a mammogram. I use “refuse” and “request” to be polite. I’ll just say the conversations were NOT polite, and I eventually stopped bringing up the issue in the interest of saving myself a lot of fussin’ and fightin’. I think sometimes my mother thinks not getting tests equals no bad news–ignorance is bliss. I can understand that trap a little. There’ve been times I’ve wanted to delay my doctor visits, until it becomes the battle of which is worse: not knowing at all, or potentially facing bad news. But my mother takes the cake: at least a decade since her last mammogram. She is almost 70. Isn’t 60-something the average age of a breast cancer patient? Basically, she refused to heed the once a year, 1 in 8 message Pink shoves down throats. And the irony? I still have to explain my anti-Pink views every now and again. Oh, she approves the Pink message—just, not for herself. Her frame of mind is that classic: “breast cancer is very real threat, but it won’t happen to me”. Ah that denial, I once knew it well.
Needless to say, this personal situation drives me nuts, which is one reason I rarely share it.
In the past year, her diagnosis of having a hereditary kidney condition (that no other relatives we know of have–go figure), has opened her eyes. She finally relented and had a colonoscopy—only 15+ years after the recommended age one should start having them. Yes there were polyps, removed and proven benign. Then finally her GP twists her arm enough to get a mammogram. And yes, there was an area of concern, and she was called to schedule a sonogram.
I pause here to say for all the stereotypical “I’m turning into my mother” things I notice about myself each day, how we approach medical issues is the one place we will always be vastly different. She is from the old school, revere the doctor’s word as near deity-like; I challenge everything. I prefer to attend doctor visits alone—cancer was awful in that necessity of always have an escort to help write down/ask questions/don’t drive after treatment. I’m a royal impatient bitch in waiting rooms, so I really don’t like company. Mom likes to have someone with her. Mom usually thinks all is well; I’m a typical post-cancer person—convinced each scratch is a sign of recurrence.
The other difference is I generally mean it when I say, “no don’t come with me”. Mom will say those things and really mean, “please escort me”! (Typical for her age and upbringing.)
Long story short, I took her for her word, did not go with her, and yes experienced the guilt only mothers can force on their daughters afterward. I am further frustrated because I know I would’ve advocated for her harder. The radiologist told her he didn’t think there is cause for concern at present—come back in 6 months. She is relieved and thinks all will be fine. And maybe it will be.
But, given my nature, I have doubts. Just to review if you missed the first paragraphs—imagine my mother as a dot in the center of a triangle. The 3 points of the triangle are occupied with her mother, her sister, and me, her daughter. We all had some serious breast cancer. If you were a gambling sort, what are the odds, hmmm?
Obviously, I’m not inclined to think all will be well even if two of those triangle points were removed. My own cancer was a story of falling into the smaller percentage: (false negative mammogram, E/P negative and HER2+, 1 in 233, NOT 1 in 8….). Of course I am pressing the panic button. Of course I expect bad news in the next 6 months.
But what can I do? The doctors, with more knowledge, think it is not time to panic. The media is full of stories of over-diagnosis, over-screening, false alarms. Who am I to disagree?
I do not know how to be a cancer mentor, as I mentioned in a previous post. I am not the one who will tell you or anyone: “hey it’ll be OK, just fight, be positive, and things will work out”. I will never join a local or online group as a breast cancer survivor that newly diagnosed women can turn to, to comfort and share knowledge. I’m an idiot that barely handled my cancer my own self. It is all I can do, when others around me begin to spiral, to not follow them down the drain (talking about even more folks I know than my own mother).
I’m sure most cancer patients have at least one or many people in their circle saying, “don’t worry, it will be fine”. For me, the problem was I ONLY had those types around me, to the point that every single time I expressed fear or other so-called negative feelings, I was shut down. The result of that for me was that I felt dismissed; it impacted me to the point it reverberates even today. That’s kind of what this entire blog is about: reassuring myself that those feelings are common, normal. And when the kind folks who comment on my blog posts comfort me or share their own feelings of “negativity”—well, that is another reason I keep this blog. This can be a safe place to vent, without the fear of being shut down and told to think positive, it will be OK. I do not know that it will be OK, so I will never say that. I will just try NOT to feed anyone’s panic.
I realize most people in my life need the “it will be OK” thing said to them. I do not know I can bring myself to do that every time. All I can do is try to keep myself from piling on. My stern message to myself: “don’t spread the dread”.
15 thoughts on “Spread the Dread”
I think you show remarkable kindness (and self-restraint) when you commit to not feeding others negativity. We’re a negative society that loves to spread the dread about everything. Thoughtful post.
And of course you know up close and personal how quickly I fall down that anxiety trap myself!
Yes, society is like that, and some would say groups like Komen, etc are dread spreaders, scaring women into unneeded scans. But I was thinking of the flip side as well, that “be positive” mandate that rules cancer culture, and how it harmed me. The thin line between not making others panic needlessly and not giving false platitudes of the it will be OK nature (when I have no idea IF it will be OK), well that is the thin line I struggle to walk. Others in CancerLand do it well. I do not.
My Mom never went for a mammogram even though we have a free screening program for those at risk here in Ireland. She would never go to the doctor unless it was absolutely unavoidable. She was a classic head in the sand person. In the end she died of a brain tumor – totally unexpected. I will never know if she had symptoms or worries about it, and will always regret not being able to help her if she did.
I was a bit head in the sand before cancer myself–long story for another post I guess.
Wow, how awful! Given your caring and helpful nature that is so evident on your blog and your standing in the breast cancer community, am not surprised at your regret. There are no words I can say to alleviate that, tho’ I wish I knew how (as this post says, I just don’t know how to do that). I do hope you are comforted in the knowledge of how much you’ve helped me and, what, hundreds? thousands? of other bloggers here with what you have done in the past 6 years. That may not be a consolation to you in your regrets about your mother–but it is no small thing to us (generally I do not like to speak for others as you’ve no doubt heard me say, but I’m pretty confident this time). With love and sincerity, Wendi, Cancer Curmudgeon
yes, it’s that thin line, the one betwixt and between feeding panic and positive platitudes, that is so difficult to maintain. I think you did a great job with this post as you, with great sensitivity, considered and examined both sides. and I know that even though you and your Mom are at polar opposites of that line, you will be able to provide support for whichever way it goes 6 mos. from now. and I loved what you said to Marie – I second that emotion of heartfelt thanks!
Thanks Karen, for your faith in me! much love…W
I understand your frustration, especially with the family history. As for “It’ll be all right,” I get nuts when people say, “It’ll be all right,” when they have no way of knowing. I used to be an “It’ll be all right” person, but I think going through cancer purges that one right out of a person.
Thanks Eileen, you are so right.
I make an exception for Decker, my partner. When he says I’ll be okay, it affects me deeply and I can’t explain how. But, for some reason I choose to believe him. When he says it, I let it stop my panic.
You are indeed very lucky to have him! Thanks for commenting!
Hi CC, Even when I was a cancer newbie, it used to drive me nuts when doctors and nurses would say to me, “You’ll be fine” or “everything will be okay.” I knew they meant well, but somehow it didn’t make me feel better. I had to chuckle about your mom comments. My mom loved to have people go with her to appointments too. Not me. When you think of your mom as a dot in that triangle you spoke of, I can see why you worry, but still, you might as well wait til you ‘need to worry’ or as you so sternly told yourself, “don’t spread the dread.” Thank you for the post. Thank you for your blog, a safe haven indeed.
Yes, I am a “little” better at delaying worry after cancer, but, some days….ugh, not so much. But you’re right, 6 months will be here before I know it–best to just push the panic down for now–nothing I can do.
So glad you understand about preferring to go alone–thought I was the only one!
Thanks for coming to my “safe haven” and for providing one as well!
I can sense your frustration with your mother’s “everything’s going to be ok” attitude. I would have trouble with it too given your family history. You are showing remarkable restraint in letting the 6 months play out as they will. Let’s hope she does have some dumb luck on her side when the 6 months is up. If it’s not cancer, do you think she’ll ever get another mammogram?
Good question — I have not given any thought to beyond the 6 month mark. She may well just think, hey all is well, no reason to worry ever again! Yikes! Oh well, I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get there. Thanks!
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