Burden of Gratitude

Long before I got cancer, I worked with a woman really into positive energy, healthy eating, and so on. She and I, along with other co-workers, started reading “Simple Abundance”. One daily task suggested by the book was to make a list of 5 or10 things one is grateful for. I found this very easy—I still do it in a limited way. Not a day goes by that I do not think of at least one thing for which I’m grateful, unconsciously, for half a second. It’s just habit.

Shocking, coming from a self-professed Cancer Curmudgeon, I know. But it IS true, I am able to do those cliché things each day—stop and smell roses, focus and be present for a few moments—all that crap. It just so happens my being in the present moment tends to have loud guitar soundtrack, which I’m sure is not what most would consider a peaceful moment—but hey, it works for me. That is a post for another time. The point is, as much so-called negative energy I send out via this blog (I don’t think I do, I’ve merely been accused of this), I’m much more balanced than I seem.

As I’ve said MANY times in various posts, including my About section, I AM grateful to be alive, for the treatment that stopped my cancer, for having an easier time of it than so many I seem to know, to still be in the 70% that has not yet had a metastatic recurrence. See what I did there? Put a positive spin on a terrible stat; see I can do it too!

I am even begrudgingly grateful for all the Pink cult mess that made the research and development for Herceptin possible. I’m all too AWARE (I hate that word) that having the “popular” cancer, the better funded cancer, improves my survival odds.

And there it is: this is where gratitude begins to feel like a burden.

I’ve had a few lightning bolt moments of being struck by this feeling of gratitude as burden over the past few years since I started this blog. I remember watching Lisa Bonchek Adams, Gayle Sulik, and Dr. Love on Al Jazeera a couple of years ago, and seeing the few tweets popping up along the bottom of the screen about the oversaturation of Pink. A few tweets seemed fed up with the ribbon on everything, but the ones that bothered me were the tweets that spoke of the success of the ribbons (a show discussing them is proof of their effectiveness!). The implied message was, don’t knock the ribbon, it worked because now we are aware and anything that brings more awareness is therefore good. There was also the misguided belief that Pink on everything has solely been responsible for breast cancer patients not having to suffer in silence anymore (see Breast Cancer Action’s history lesson).

I get lightning bolt moments of the burden anytime I scroll through comments on ANY criticism of Pink crap and/or sexy awareness ads. It is inevitable that at least one person will angrily comment about the lack of gratitude the breast cancer patient writer is expressing in the critique. The appearance of such a comment is more predictable than the best weather/economy/whatever forecast. And I’m not even going to go into some of the blog posts and articles that have appeared tsk-tsk-ing those of us who criticize Pink. I guess it is just a backlash to the backlash. Again, there is the message, said directly or implied, that anything that brings awareness is inherently good.

(Gonna pause right here and say awareness is not enough, I don’t want to go into that issue here, many others have, and I said my piece about it in Some Word Problems last year.)

But a really major lightning bolt moment is an article in an Australian publication from about a year ago, that I can no longer access, but I’d made notes to myself on it in an earlier draft of this post. The article was about the competition for funding and attention between the different cancers, and how breast cancer gets the most money BY FAR, although it was not nearly as lethal as other cancers. A woman interviewed worked for a breast cancer charity and recounted a story about an interaction she had with some big executive. He told her point blank that his business partnered with her organization because of the body part. He said something kind of crass, like if his wife got breast cancer it would be really hitting where he lives (sorry, cannot remember exact quote, just remember the “where he lives” part).

How many other partnerships were forged for the same reason? Probably more than I want to know.

Yes, I know I’ve benefited, directly and indirectly, from money funneled into breast cancer organizations because of this mentality. Whether it was an executive motivated by selfishness (I am GRATEFUL I am NOT his wife), or one of the local boobs and brews events, I’ve had the best/latest treatment, and received some useful care packages bought with funds raised by things like this. I repeat I AM GRATEFUL for all of this.

But how do I reconcile my gratitude for my benefits with my disgust with the methods used to buy them?

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, sometimes my blog is just me trying to work through my thoughts and emotions about cancer. I have not been able to work through this. I cannot reconcile my gratitude with disgust. The only way I’m dealing with it right now is by knowing that I am capable of experiencing numerous contrasting feelings at once.

When I started writing this post, I wondered if anyone else found gratitude to be a burden. I mindlessly Googled around one afternoon. I ran into the usual stuff—blogs from the self-help set, a quote or two from a historic figure. I stumbled on a HuffPo piece from a literature lecturer about gratitude being used almost as a weapon of sorts in some Austen novels. This analysis of a couple of novels actually made sense to me, in a VERY loose way. I don’t think the “you complaining breast cancer patients should just be grateful” finger-waggers are exactly viewing us as inferior, lower-class people (such as in the Austen stories, where the poor, unmarried girl has to benefit from the charity of society people to catch a husband and the stability of marriage).

But there IS a whiff of superiority in the attitudes and tones in these comments. Sometimes I get the impression the obligation of gratitude is being wielded like a ruler in the hands of an old timey teacher. And that ruler is being used to thwack the fingers of naughty breast cancer patients daring to challenge the status quo. And I don’t mean just patients who are blogging and writing articles. I mean anyone who has ever dared to grumble quietly among friends and family, and received that rebuke of ” be grateful” in return.

Perhaps it’s all in my mind. It does seem linked to the subtle, indirect blame ALL cancer patients get. Like: “you didn’t eat right/live healthy/think about sunbeams all day, so now you have cancer and you should just be grateful some smart people invented treatments no matter how those treatments were developed and you have no right to complain about anything because at least you are alive for one more day, and that should be good enough for you.” (Not going down the blame road today, either—see my old post Did You?)

The feeling of gratitude should NOT be a burden; that’s not what all the self-help mumbo jumbo is about. Gratitude is supposed to help one on the path to happiness. Well, that’s not happening here for me. What should I do about that? I mean, besides trying to work it out here on this blog?

I still do not really know. But I do know this: I felt increasingly disturbed by the Pink (by that I mean the be a happy warrior rah rah stuff, the sexualization, the pinkwashing, all of it) as I began treatment and hit a zenith right after treatment ended. I felt this disturbance before I ever found others with the same thoughts via social media. Every single day tons of women get this diagnosis. Some of them will go all in to embrace the Pink. But MANY others will have an experience similar to mine.

I don’t want my experience for these future breast cancer patients. Just because it “worked so far” (again, that is debatable, since, you know, there is still all this cancer out here), does NOT mean it will continue to work. Some would say, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

But guess what? It is broken. When gratitude makes me feel like shit, something is definitely broken.

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You Need To

I’ve been having a hard time writing lately; I’ve been mentally blocked. I’m even having a hard time reading some of my favorite blogs. I’m chalking it up to a temporary fatigue not just with cancer, but with the way damn near every issue is discussed. I hit a boiling point the other day that made me immediately start laughing. And I realized I am just sick of EVERYthing.

What caused this?

Well, I’ve griped here on this blog about some of my dislikes with certain words and phrases in CancerLand (see Some Word Problems). I know many others agree with my thoughts on some of these major language gripes—you know, “fight, battle, awareness…” all those. They are so overused! The word awareness is now meaningless to me. I’m sure I’ll delve into that subject (again) in some future post.

But I’ve found lately nearly all kinds of words are so overused that I’m reacting like I’m hearing nails on a chalkboard. I’ve been reluctant to complain about them because I know most everyone else uses these words, and are OK with them. But I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I’m sick of these words anyway. I’m not criticizing anyone for using them; this my fault for being too immersed in media. I’m not suggesting anyone amend how they speak or write, on the contrary, I’ve used these words myself, and only want to change my own habits. And I’m just trying to clear the cobwebs out of my mind with a few random rants.

Words/phrases that I’m not going to gripe about in this particular post—but will likely confront later—are common and simple, like “powerful/empowering”. So tired of those two being used to describe stuff. And “journey”—ugh, that one makes me nuts. The incident that made me laugh as I mentioned in the first paragraph? I ran across a blog about weight loss and the author said something like: why does my weight loss program have to be called a “journey”? And then I knew that “journey” was not just overused in CancerLand (stuff like “your cancer journey” has always made me retch). It seems society just uses words like “journey” or “struggle” for anything these days. And clearly I’m not the only one disliking it.

Like I said, I don’t want to concentrate on ALL the little words driving me crazy in this post—I’m sure more posts about one word/phrase at a time will pop up here and there in the future. What is driving me most crazy today is this one: “you need to….”

Whenever I’m told I need to do something, that pretty much guarantees I won’t do it. And yes, I’ve said the need to phrase myself on this blog (Somebody Needs to Buy These Media People a Dictionary—and I stand by the thoughts in that ancient post), so obviously I’m just as guilty of trying to modify others’ behavior to suit me.

What irks me about being told I need to do something—and yes, I’ve been told in my comments I need to rethink my points—is that I view it a shortsighted, and illogical as an argument. And even if the argument made is valid, the rudeness of the need to phrase undercuts the strength of the argument. When I was told I need to think or educate myself about an issue in an old comment, I was annoyed because it was such a poor argument. I had indeed reviewed/thought about the issues brought up by the angry comments. My mistake was poor writing, and not making myself clear to show that I’d considering many angles of the issue. That is a sticking point for me in fact—I try to see ALL sides of an issue, but sometimes that is a bad thing, it paralyzes me into not taking a stand or making a decision (that’s a post for another day).

I’ve seen the need to phrase used and the one using it is quite right, but the rudeness of the phrase, the smug superiority I perceive when I read or hear the phrase, undercuts the point. I remember a rant blog post making the rounds last Pinktober asking why other cancers are not sexualized like breast cancer. A VERY angry reaction by a patient with a rarer cancer included the directive “you need to think about…” It undercut her rant for me totally. I happened to agree—comparing illnesses, comparing how cancers are “sold” is a bad move. When discussing the sexualization of breast cancer, those of us criticizing should keep in mind the dirty benefits reaped from the campaigns (awareness begets funding—this is a post for another day, again), and bring the fact that breast cancer is the most “popular” (read: funded) cancer into the discussion. But being told we NEED TO do it just rankles.

I started writing this over 30 minutes ago and could not remember what set me off. I mean, the need to phrase is so damn overused! I researched and again it was a rant I agreed with—but the “you need to” command at the end ruined it for me. A woman had written about how racism, fat shaming, and income inequality were health issues. Someone had pointed out that fat leads to strokes in a comment to her. You know those types of comments—I see them in EVERY post written about weight. Turns out the woman had a hole in her heart that led to her weight gain, strokes and other illness. If she’d had money to be tested earlier, all those issues would’ve been prevented. It was a great lesson; I was on board with her 100%. But her directive that her commenter NEEDED to stop cosigning this crap just killed it for me.

Are there things we NEED to do? Of course. But this cultural habit of wanting to “school” someone in this manner is driving me crazy.

OK, just my stupid little random rant for today. I know it must seem odd—a curmudgeon who rants A LOT fussing about counter-rants. But, this is just my point of view today. Maybe I’ll change my mind. I’m just dealing with a great amount of cancer culture (or all health issues culture) fatigue at the moment.

15 Random Facts About Me

Yep, I am answering Nancy’s call to post 15 random facts about myself. Some of these facts may have appeared on past blogs—I apologize for the repeats!

  1. I am an only child—I’m sure that is apparent sometimes!
  1. My birthday is October 29, 1971. Why yes, Halloween is my favorite holiday!
  1. Yes, I’m almost 44 and I still cannot quite grasp that. I still think and act like I’m in my early 30s, or younger.
  1. I’m allergic to cats and still choose to be a pet sitter. Go figure. Probably says a lot about how I prefer animals to people.
  1. I do not like to drink milk out of a glass—it creeps me out. I prefer to plastic cups, or ceramic mugs—anything but glass.
  1. Like Nancy, I try to avoid politics on my blog, but I am a proud, flaming liberal. And not just because I benefited from Obamacare’s support for self-employed people with pre-existing conditions.
  1. Like Nancy, I cannot swim. It sucks because I’ve lived near the ocean my whole life.
  1. About the not-swimming/loving the beach: as I’ve aged, I’ve grown to hate the way sand gets everywhere. Yet I still love lounging on the beach—looking at the water, hearing the seagulls and people enjoying their day. So in short, can’t swim, don’t like sand and still love putting myself at the beach. Weird.
  1. Also about the not-swimming: I intend to learn because I want to learn to surf. I still fantasize about chucking it all, moving to Hawaii (or other surf-centric location) and just living simply and surfing every day.
  1. Never say never, but I’ve worked in retail and for a non-profit arts organization, and both experiences left me sour. I hope to never work in those fields again.
  1. I am a dog person when the weather is great and I want to be outside, walking and playing with a dog. I am a cat person when the weather is rainy (like today) or snowy, cold. Talk about a fair weather friend!
  1. I love to drive fast. I want to drive on the Autobahn. Or become a NASCAR racer.
  1. I love cooking, but hate baking. Baking breads and cakes calls for too much precision. Cooking meals is my creative outlet, and precision stifles the creativity for me.
  1. I love vegetables but hate fruit.
  1. I like all kinds of fancy shmancy desserts, but at the end of the day, my favorite will always be Tastykake chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing (no cream filling, I HATE cream fillings)!