Take It Easy, Man

This post is in praise of the nameless cancer patients who don’t have the energy to do much of anything during or even after treatment.

Feel-good stories run rampant on the internet, local news, and fake news shows like those idiot magazine and morning shows. A special subdivision of feel-good stories are the stereotypical cancer stories. You know the type: the cancer patient finishing school, running a race, or doing some event or another, all while juggling treatment and the rest of life. Sometimes these exceptional cancer achievers are featured in ads for various cancer non-profit organizations, and I’m again reminded of the saying I encountered when I first moved to CancerLand: “only the positive stories make it to the podium”. Lots of folks like to post these stories, calling them powerful or inspiring.

Looking back on my days of treatment, I am glad I was not very connected with social media. I was lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged me to listen to my body; if I was tired, take a rest, don’t push myself. I look at all these stories of someone putting off chemo to run a marathon and think, “I could never do that”. Or I see the governor of my home state posing with his bald head on the steps of some government building proclaiming how great he feels and I think, “well, it has just begun for him, the fatigue and other side effects are cumulative, ask him again in a few months”. Then I feel guilty for being so self-absorbed, for being tired, for comparing myself to others. Even now, nearly 5 years out from diagnosis, when I am done with my work day, I sit down and almost immediately nod off. (This is why I get so behind in reading and writing.)

It is natural to compare ourselves to figures we see in the media. Reams have been written about this topic, how young girls and women see images, cartoons or real starlets, and are set up trying to reach an unachievable standard. I enjoy seeing the attempts to counter the impact on the internet, campaigns about self-acceptance. Too bad that was not around when I was young. These images still impact me as I’ve aged; I mean I know that beauty product being shilled by the actress decades older than I—yet her face has less lines than mine—won’t really help me, but I consider buying it anyway. My point is, any media-anointed she-ro, whether a cancer patient or otherwise, is meant to inspire others to be more like the she-ro, and if that is unachievable, well, I don’t know about other folks, but sometimes I just wind up feeling like crap.

I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski”, and The Dude. While I’ve never decided to follow Dudeism (the sort of philosophy posing as a religion, or vice versa, based on the character), I cannot help but think some of its ideals should be embraced by cancer patients. Dudeists are trying to reach their version of Nirvana, which is just taking it easy, man. Take a nap! Abide!

No this isn’t some Dudeism recruitment post—as I said I don’t really embrace it all myself. But I do think there is some wisdom in taking it easy. This is in no way meant to knock those cancer patients who push themselves, run races, execute events, and all that. All I want to do is say hey, if you are tired and need a nap, for goodness’ sake, take it!

Media appointed cancer s/heroes create a standard or ideal that it is not necessary to reach, no matter how many times those less-than-supportive types around us might think. While, again, I was lucky to be surrounded mostly by folks who told me to rest when tired, I did encounter many folks (and still do) who see the image of the smiling, kick-ass woman (an image I have long fought, see Take the Mythical Image of the Strong Warrior Breast Cancer Survivor and Bury Her Once & For All) so omnipresent in breast cancer culture, and wonder why I’m not wearing a feather boa and marching. No thanks, I will put on my bathrobe, pour myself a beverage, and have a seat while pondering if the rug really ties a room together.

And I raise that beverage in honor of all the other cancer patients who also decide to take it easy, man. We may not get on TV, won’t get any media praise, but we are doing cancer right for ourselves.

The Dude

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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.

17 thoughts on “Take It Easy, Man”

  1. Well said!! I don’t get a lot of pressure from friends about these specific expectations — at least not verbally — but I have noticed a pattern. For example, I can’t hang out late like I used to because by 10PM I want to be in bed. Some of my friends don’t include me in their plans anymore so there’s distance. I am OK with this but what I am not OK with is the labeling. I am considered “an old lady” among some friends – not all.

    Like you, I allow my body to do what it wants. I don’t have the need to impress anyone except myself. But the pressure from the media, and some people I know, annoys me because I can’t walk away completely. Like I wish I wasn’t listening or watching any of it. Just like when I am finding a thread of dumb cancer comments — like finding cures — on facebook, I try hard to ignore, but I don’t always do. I am in it. It has to have some effect on me one way or another. But I am done with treatments (except Tamox) and often think about the newbies who may be looking up to these “champs.” They wouldn’t necessarily have the same personality we do where we don’t try to impress anyone. I feel for them because I wouldn’t want them to meet those expectations because of other people.

    I am tired of the media contributing to these expectations and for helping create these labels. This makes the culture in cancerland hard to change.

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    1. Ugh, you said it, the culture in cancerland will just be too hard to change with all this reinforcement. That is why I hope some folks find the will to resist it! And yes, it was one FB post too many the other day of some patient being extraordinary that pushed me into this post, sigh. Thanks as always my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I want to thank my friend Deb Mumma for sharing this with me. I hear about and meet many of these “strong,courageous ” cancer patients and tend to feel inadequate; like I’m not living up to the standard. Many tell me how they worked through chemo and they were stage 4. I’m only stage 2 and I’m lucky to feel half human by noon! Am I missing something? Are they getting better nausea meds than I am? I always prided myself on the fact that I gave birth to 3 sons without any drugs, lived through 8 yrs of seizures, as well as some other pretty tough things. I always considered myself pretty tough despite my small frame. Heck, I even made it through a violent 10 yr marriage! This blog helps put it into perspective. Yes, there are times when I’m feeling good and want to throw sparkle around but you have to show the WHOLE honest picture. You can’t just show the good. It just makes newbies like myself, feel weak and inadequate. When you share the good, bad, and ugly; then you feel more connected and informed; not just part of a glossy, feel good poster for cancer. By all means, stay positive but show the WHOLE picture; not just the pretty parts.

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    1. So glad you were led to this post and it works for you! As for the not living up to the standard–well, that is pretty much what my whole blog is about, ha ha! Check out the old post about the mythical image that is linked in this post–that might work for you as well, although be warned, it is a much angrier, grumpy post. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. YEEEESSSSSS!!!!! Thank you for saying this! I feel like this is a great follow-up to my last post and how we should be “doing cancer right.” Just today I was beating myself up because I had a little tummy trouble and it exhausted me and I cancelled my fun filled day with my family. But I listened to my body, stayed home and napped. It wasn’t the fun choice but the necessary one. A year ago I could have just taken a pill and gone on with my day. Not anymore. Not right now, at least. It’s hard listening to the new you. The cancer you.
    Great post!

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    1. Ha ha I think my rebelling against doing cancer “right” is pretty much the over-riding theme of this blog–most of my posts are about that in some small way. I’m glad you listened to your gut and napped–doesn’t it feel so good?! Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I love this post. I don’t appreciate all those “news” stories about cancer patients who’ve gone on to do miraculous things following their diagnoses either. Sure it’s great for them and I’m truly happy for them, but such stories most definitely can make me feel like a cancer failure. Please… enough with the expectations and the glossing over of cancer’s difficulties. I’m with you. Again. Thank you for this post.

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    1. Thank YOU. I’m at a point that when the feel-good got my diploma while doing chemo (or whatever) kind of story comes on the TV, I just run out of the room. Yes, great for those folks. But those are the exceptions not the rule, and I’m tired of being held up to a standard that is NOT standard at all.

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  5. Thank you so much for speaking out. I have decided there are no cancer treatments that do not cause fatigue, and at stage 4, I have a growing list. The people I know who are able to do wonderful things (like go back to work and get their house properly clean) after cancer are not stage 4 and not still in treatment. And even they admit it took a long while after their treatments ended to build up their strength again.

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    1. Thank YOU. I was afraid people would not like this post because it would seem I was poo-pooing the wonder woman or superman types. I’m not really, I just want people to understand that those people are exceptions, and that taking it easy is permissible, even admirable.
      Hell, I STILL get tired to this day. I will never likely recover all the way. I had a rough year recovering from the double whammy of radiation and Herceptin. When I sit down at the end of the day, I am DONE and that is that! No apologies.

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  6. Hey Dude-ess (is that proper English? Does it really matter?) You are right on mark with your thoughts about this whole she-ro business in the pink corner of cancerland. I’ve always believed in listening to my body and when it tells me to take a nap, I follow through.

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    1. I wrote this post after seeing just one too many “uplifting” articles on FB about some woman training for a marathon or something and delaying her treatment or chemo. It just irritated me that the media anoints this kind of thing as heroic. It is close to dangerous to praise this type of person. Where is the praise for those of us invested in self-care?

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      1. Prepare for a shocking response: it just doesn’t matter. To a society who can no longer communicate face-to-face and believes everything they see on “reality” t.v. and doesn’t need to learn how to spell (because of correction software and stupid shortcuts thinking for them) … Sorry Curmudgeon, I’m still not in my right mind yet and cannot express myself properly… Hope you get the jest.My world has changed but you are still a chosen part of it. Someday, I’ll make sense again.

        Liked by 1 person

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