Mean Streak

As I’ve said many times, cancer did NOT make me a better person. Those treacly articles and captioned pictures present on so many internet feel-good stories are just not my story. I did not learn to re-prioritize my life, cancer did not teach me life is precious, blah, blah, blah. Cancer merely made me more myself, I often think. And cancer has uncovered a rather mean streak in me, I am sorry to admit.

I know, I know, one should never read comments on articles, but sometimes I still cannot help it. Every now and again, I see something really awful. This has happened a couple of times so far in 2015.

When Jolie hit the news again a few months ago with her surgeries, the usual chit chat started about surgery as prevention, BRCA issues and so on. I found one really disturbing comment from someone saying something like everyone dies, implying Jolie should not have done something so extreme to prevent cancer, to attempt to prolong her life. It really upset me. Then, just the other day I read another story about how the rising costs of life-saving cancer drugs are putting those very drugs out of reach for some patients. (Is it just me or does that make them um, NOT life-saving? Moving on….) Of course the first comment I ran across said that one or two more years are just not worth bankrupting oneself or one’s family just to feed the greed of big pharma because after all, death is inevitable.

When I see sentiments like this expressed, I am shocked and angry. How quick some folks are to throw away the lives of people with terminal cancer! It is so very easy for these people I suppose, to make statements like this when they do not face a cancer diagnosis. Or maybe they have faced, or are facing, a cancer diagnosis, but that still does not give them the right to determine what a year or two of more life is worth to another.

This is where my mean streak rises up, a meanness I did not know I possessed before cancer. Gee I guess I did learn something from cancer (eye roll). I would never wish actual cancer on another, but I cannot help but want others to feel what it is like to have cancer (without actually having it): all the uncertainty, the wondering if it will come back and take your life. So when I read a comment like “we all gotta die sometime”, my knee jerk reaction is “yes we do, but you first—I want to live as long as I can”. I know it is an awful thing to say, but I have felt this way for a while now.

Maybe that “life is short, live every moment” lesson that gets spouted in cancer stories is a little different for me. I always knew life to be short, precious, and that I should not be wasting time doing stuff I hate. What is clear to me now, or at least I think about it more these days, is how much I want to remain alive. It was easy, before cancer, to use “life is short” as a rationalization for silly things: life is short, go on that trip, buy the dream house, etc. My view has shifted slightly. This is a more nitty gritty, how far will I go to stay alive, and why, kind of view. I suppose some of the “everyone dies sometime” commenters would view my life as expendable: I do not have children, nor siblings so no nieces and nephews, I am not destined to do great things, I spend most of my blogging time curmudgeon-ing—what does my life matter?

But that is the thing—I don’t have to justify my existence to them. My life matters to me, and I’ll do what it takes to keep it.

Yes, we all gotta go sometime, excuse the hell out of me for wanting to delay that.

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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.

22 thoughts on “Mean Streak”

  1. Thank you for sharing what you call your “meanness” with us, but I’d be more inclined to call it “self-defence”. I feel it too sometimes, I think everyone who is sailing in the same cancer boat gets hurt and upset by thoughtless comments like the ones you are writing about, because the implication is that we should be jettisoned out of our boat, killed off, and that we don’t matter. Two years is a heck of a long time, and it makes all the difference! I’m so pleased you’ve addressed this, you are doing it for all of us, and yes, we do matter, and yes, whatever it costs shouldn’t be the issue. Every time modern medicine keeps one of us alive for just that little bit longer, the researchers learn more to keep pushing the survival boundaries further and further. Of course we all die, but lets do a lot of living first!

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    1. Thank you very much. I admit it was difficult for me to write this, to put this out there. The cost does matter to me–not sure I could afford it should I have a recurrence. And those saying “we all gotta go sometime” scare me–it does show me that my life does not matter to those folks. Very sad.

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  2. Don’t get me started on that cancer makes you a better person BS… Maybe cancer brings out a little “meanness” in all of us. I like Yvonne’s inclination to call it self defense. I don’t consider you mean at all; I think you’re refreshingly honest. Sometimes comments are left by people who just don’t get it. And as you know, I’ve been called negative and some also take this further and go on to interpret being negative as being “mean”. I have a post lined up that I’ve been hesitant to publish because of how it might be perceived. But you always give me courage, or that little nudge, to go ahead and say what’s on my mind. You are so right, you do not have to justify your existence, your opinions, your curmudgeon-ing, or anything else for that matter. Another post that resonated with me, so thank you for writing it.

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    1. I worry at times I get a little: “no cancer–no opinion!” when I read a comment by someone that seemingly does not have cancer. That kind of happened this weekend!
      Wow thank you, so glad I give the nudge–cannot wait to read what you’ve got lined up. As I said to Yvonne this was difficult to put out there, even tho’ I’ve felt like this for some time now. Knowing that it resonates with others gives me great relief.

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    2. thank you for writing this…Like you I thought I was a pretty good person to start with… one day I actually had someone tell me “the universe is trying to teach you a lesson”… The only thing that stopped me from hitting her and saying “Now the universe has taught you a lesson – don’t be a bitch” was my mother’s voice… Damn you mom…

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  3. Kiki Mason, an ACT UP activist who died from AIDS in 1996 said it best, I think: “I want to live, by any means necessary.” I am willing to stomp on toes and ruffle feelings and upset cozy little worlds to get my point across and fight to live – by any means necessary.

    Having a terminal stage of cancer might seem to have made me more tolerant (Just not wasting my spoons dealing with that shit, not my circus, not my monkeys) but don’t mistaken lack of involvement as playing nice. When I have the spoons to deal with shit, I don’t pull my punches. I don’t have time to waste playing little nice games anymore.

    You’re not the only one who’s become more blunt and biting as a result of cancer. Sharing the hell out of this post.

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    1. Share away my friend! I am feeling relieved today that people agree with this post–I was worried. But, I remind myself that I spent too much time not being bold about some things prior to cancer. No more.

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  4. I am glad you wrote about this. I often find myself starting online arguments over stupid comments like the ones you mentioned (especially about the chemo vs. the fruit that can “cure cancer” comments). There are some insensitive people out there. They lack empathy. We are better off ignoring them, IF we can, which I understand sometimes it’s challenging.

    Like you, I often think, what if those people actually go through cancer, would they suddenly change their perspective on things? Most likely.

    You got me thinking about something more serious now. Metastatic breast cancer doesn’t get enough funding for research. I wonder if the mentality you describe in this post has something to do with this. That’s probably a very complex topic but I couldn’t help thinking about that possibility and it made me angry and sad at the same time. I personally know people who refuse to donate to cancer charities (ANY) because they think it wouldn’t make a difference, even after me being diagnosed with cancer (talk about friends!).

    Enjoyed reading this post.

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    1. Thank you! I often realize since cancer, there are many ways in which I reacted the opposite of what I thought I would–so yes, I think it is easy for people to say silly things like, “if I had cancer I would just (insert here)”. NOT how it works!
      And yes, I think many metsters would say there is a “thrown under the bus” thing going on–like it’s too late for them, study something else. And the seeds for that kind of thinking were on display in the comment.

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  5. ah! And about the “cancer makes me a better person” comment, I am preparing a series on “culturally disturbed” people who see cancer as a lesson, punishment, sign, gift, opportunity, etc. I can’t wait to expose those people (and cultures)! For me it is the worst comment of them all. So arrogant and judgmental. UGH.

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    1. Read some old posts of Nancy’s Point on this topic. I found the expectation of “being better” after cancer quite damaging. I’ve many character traits that are much worse (I lost all patience–but then, I find patience a bit over-rated). It is a coping mechanism for some I am sure, a way to turn a bad thing into a good thing. If it works for others, whatever, but I get sick of it applied to me.

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  6. I don’t think you are mean as much as frustrated by shallowness and careless comments. Having cancer sucks and we all need support and kindness so as not to feel alone or isolated. Your mark on the world is the life and memories you make and share with others. All we can do is continue to educate others when they lack understanding or are misinformed.

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  7. I wrote a bit about this after learning I had disease progression last week. I talked about being grateful for my days, but that I was honest enough and blunt enough to say I want more of them.

    I don’t think I’m a better person with cancer. I may be more poignantly aware of some aspects of life, but ….

    I think some would say I’m more brutal or perhaps, more brutally honest with cancer. My time is short. I see no need to waste it in meaningless gossip about someone’s weight gain (especially since I have gained 30 pounds, lost 25 pounds, gained 25, lost 50 and gained 40, all in the three plus years I’ve been living with this disease and all due to various treatments), and I will point blank say that I refuse to participate in such a conversation.

    I can be both a party popper and the life of a party. It all depends upon the day. Neither one makes me a better or worse person, but reflects the absolute normality of living with a terminal disease.

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    1. Oh no–not happy to hear about your progression. But I do think it is ok to be more brutal, or blunt. And to not waste time. I definitely am less patient now, and when I’m feeling impatient I do think in terms of not wanting to waste time on something (watching a bad film, waiting in line–whatever, small or large issue). But hey, these days I say patience if overrated!

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  8. LOVE this post! I keep telling myself that I MUST stop reading the comments that follow some articles… And I have started so many blogs on the “gotta go sometime” & the whole “cancer makes you a better person” stuff…but just can’t seem to finish them, cause as I write I get so aggravated! And then I hesitate cause I am also getting tired of people telling me to stop bitching about cancer all the time. (Which I don’t do ALL the time…) Ugh…I’m rambling…just, GREAT post! xx

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    1. Thanks Kim xoxoxxo!! I know–even today I was reading comments on other articles (the recent shooting and the ever-present vaccination debate) and was annoyed even before getting up. When will I learn?! Yeah, the “everyone dies sometime” issue has upset me for a long time–and I just had to confront my unkind reaction (you first!) and get it out of my system. Thanks!

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  9. How incredibly ordinary and democratic cancer is. Anyone can get it or die from it. Cancer’s mean streak comes out when you live with it.

    The “cancer taught/made/enlightened me …. ” conversation (or should I call it conversion since it’s treated like received and Divine wisdom) confused me too. I waited for the lesson to clobber me and, when no lightning bolt with a following deep voice shared the secret of life, the universe and everything, I first felt cheated and then inadequate. God didn’t commit to a special relationship with me because I had cancer now – aw shucks. Really, cancer’s nothing more than a randomized crap shoot. It just doesn’t have any special meaning and I won’t give it that power.

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    1. That expectation that cancer patients get enlightened and turn into ever-patient, bald “saints” with beatific smiles is the very reason I’ve had such a hard time admitting my mean streak–until this most recent “we all die sometime” incident made me go over the edge. I’ve been prickly about that saying for a long while now. I remember even in the early days after treatment ended–hearing old timers say stupid things to me like “don’t get old” and I would respond with “it is better than dying”. Perhaps I was rude to get so serious when they were just trying to grumble about how difficult aging is. But I’m kind of past caring about that. Oh well.
      Thanks for reading!

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