Do You Have the Time, To Listen To Me Whine?

A/N: Words in that post title sound vaguely familiar? Yes another music reference, details are at the end for the interested.

I have not been able to sit down and write for the past couple of weeks without being interrupted every few minutes. There are many reasons folks blog, and I’ve come to realize the therapeutic benefits are more important to me than I initially realized. So it’s been frustrating to not be able to think something out by writing. I keep losing my train of thought.

What has been on that train lately is the reactions to the reactions to the no make-up selfie/Facebook game fracas. For the record—and this should come as NO surprise since I call myself the Cancer Curmudgeon—I am unimpressed with the silly games. It reminds me of the head shaving for solidarity issue that gets attention every now and then. I wrote about this in Something I Can Use, and may write about it again. My views are harsh, so I need to take time to cool off before a rematch. But that post from last summer still rings true for me, for now.

I got very frustrated when I read how vicious (threats of harm were issued in some cases) people could be toward cancer patients—the supposed beneficiaries—who dared to criticize these silly games. What struck me the hardest was Kristina Egan’s HuffPo piece called “The Controversy Surrounding the ‘No Makeup Selfie’ Gave It Depth – Without It, It Was Empty”. In this essay, Egan describes a conversation with a stranger on someone’s Facebook page. This stranger asked Egan if she wanted others to get cancer in order to understand what it is like to have cancer. I found that to be a rather vile accusation.

This struck me hard for many reasons I am still trying to sort out, likely over many future posts. But the main issue getting under my skin is this: there are many talented writers, including Egan, who explain what it is like to have cancer, and how and why nonsense like silly games frustrate some of us. This stranger’s question, in my opinion, is stupid; all she had to do was not worry about writing a response, and read Egan’s (or a multitude of others’) words to understand how it feels to have cancer and suffer these silly games, without actually getting cancer. I actually touched on this issue a little in that earlier post, Something I Can Use.

So I wrote thousands of words over the past week, and discussed this with someone I trust, who does not have cancer, but knows other chronic illness all too well. What I realized with her insight was that my thousands of words could be boiled down to this:

“WAAAAHH, no one is listening to what us cancer patients have to say! WAAAAHH, why do people feel the need to open their mouths/type before letting the cancer patient finish her thought? WAAAAHH, no one ever listens to anyone anymore!”

I have a bad habit of bringing too many issues and thoughts to the page as I try to make sense of one single issue, and often wind up with overly long posts.

I began thinking about how, when I started writing this blog, I hoped to contribute to an effort to change the conversation around cancer, away from that single story of: get diagnosed, lose hair, fight hard, be positive to cure cancer, get better, all is well.

I began to think why I want to change that story, or at least see alternatives to that story.

I began to consider how hard it is to get the alternatives to the uber-positive story heard—and to consider that it may not happen in my lifetime.

I began to think that maybe all I’m doing is writing to commiserate, rather than communicate—that I’m not even trying to change any minds about that single story anymore.

I began to think about how I am a bad listener, especially when I disagree with what is being said, even more especially when the subject is Pro-Pink.

I began to think I am arrogant in thinking an alternative is needed, that minds should be changed.

I began to think maybe some minds are changed, a few and a little at a time, and I need to alter my expectations, and be thankful for those who’ve told me I’ve changed their minds.

I began to ponder the chip I have on my shoulder about cancer patients vs. non-cancer patients.

I began to think that ALL my posts could be called “Do You Have the Time, To Listen To Me Whine.” Or I could alternate that title with a line from another song: “Hey! Wait! I’ve Got a New Complaint” (from “Heart-Shaped Box”, by Nirvana, and the next line, “Forever in debt to your priceless advice”, sung with much sarcasm, could be a post title).

I cannot even remember all the things I thought about that I wanted to write about, but forgot them when I finally had a minute to sit down. I think all of this faster than I can type it.

The real issue I started with, about fully listening/reading, comprehending, and having empathy BEFORE responding, was getting lost. I thought, well, I’ll just trash this and leave it alone for a while. But then I stumbled on this quote/graphic:


The only additions I have to this great quote—which almost sums everything up—is to add reading to the listening, and to point out that not even full or complete reading/listening is happening before the reply appears (see NPR’s April Fools’ Day prank).

While I was doing all my over-thinking it this week, I stumbled on yet another article on the classic dumbass things said to cancer patients, the one commendable soul who asks “well, what SHOULD I say?” and the valiant efforts by some to provide tips or advice on what to say. I’m glad progress in that area is being made, but I’m still frustrated by the emphasis on talking to, or at, the cancer patient. I rarely, if ever, see advice suggesting a person to at least offer to listen to the patient, giving them the opportunity to express emotions. I’ve taken a swipe at this issue before (Don’t Speak). One of the most damaging aspects of the Pink and positive cancer culture for me was not being heard when I was expressing fear or negative emotions during treatment. Sometimes it did not matter if others said dumbass or compassionate things to me; I was tired of my words being not heard or just dismissed. But this is just our culture—we all worry about what to say, not how to listen. Hell, this blog might be a direct result of not being able to get a word in edgewise, so this is how I think I can be heard. Sigh. All of this is fodder for other posts on other days, as mentioned above. File under: that post I need to write about all I find wrong with Pink, all colored ribbons, & positivity vs. reality. File under why I blog. File under how this cancer patient, a self-centered only child, became even more self-involved during treatment. Yep, somebody actually said to me “oh great, now that you have cancer, you’ll be even more self-centered.”

So this very long and rambling post doesn’t have much in the way of a point. I’m just whining, and whining doesn’t invite listening. All this post does, maybe, is provide a snapshot of my jumbled mind that likes to get distracted by squirrels and shiny objects, and talk about every topic under the sun at once. I could meditate to quiet or bring order to all of these thoughts. Or I could just obliterate the thoughts with some Metallica—now there’s a post: Metallica vs. Meditation! Yeah, that post is actually in the works.

Or maybe this post’s point is to write more posts, and to ponder the challenges of writing the posts. It is certainly crammed with introspection and reflection, when it started out to be one of my usual curmudgeonly rants. I’m sure I’ll get back to ranting—I like ranting! It gives me some happiness to get things off my chest (that is a proven idea, I’ll get to it when I tackle Metallica vs. Meditation, for real—there is study about it, I swear!). But that is the best thing about having a cancer blog for me. I can fully express and finish my thought (well, not this time, but whatever), and people can choose to read and comprehend or not.

I end with the fact I was up too late last night stalking “Rolling Stone” magazine’s Tumblr for news of the inductions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In honor of my favorite inductees last night: “Oh well, whatever, never mind.”

Oh damn, that lyric could be another post title. Shut up and settle down, brain.

Regarding the A/N: From Green Day’s “Basket Case”:

Do you have the time
To listen to me whine
About nothing and everything
All at once
I am one of those
Melodramatic fools
Neurotic to the bone
No doubt about it

Sometimes I give myself the creeps
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
It all keeps adding up
I think I’m cracking up

I liked this song, and Green Day, back in 1994. But I dismissed them as “little brother music”, not “real” like The Clash or Nirvana or whatever. Ah the arrogance of a newly adult 20something who thinks the music she grew up on superior to all that comes after.  Wasn’t really listening or comprehending Green Day very well. Ten years later Greed Day released the punk rock opera (a contradiction in terms if there ever was one!) “American Idiot” and I realized the genius there—and how wrong I was. I’ve seen a lot of bands live, and I finally saw Green Day in 2009, and they are one of the best live bands ever. They used to get accused of selling out—aren’t punk bands only supposed to play small, intimate clubs, not arenas to thousands of people? That old BS. But as I sat in the nosebleed section far from the stage—it was still somehow intimate. Nothing can beat the feeling of singing along to great songs with thousands of fellow fans.

Maybe They’ll Listen This Time—Yeah, Right

There are so many issues worthy of discussion raised by the recent Keller mess. And most of the issues are being written about very well, and hopefully meaningful discussion can happen. But what makes me doubt it is that some of the issues are not really all that new to cancer patients. So, I am re-posting something I wrote a few months ago that is directly related to one aspect of this drama, before the drama even happened.

I know other bloggers have also written about this; I’ve seen such posts, I just cannot remember when or where I read them, so I cannot link them. I can only re-post what I wrote.

The main conceit of Emma Keller’s article is that she raises the question of oversharing via social media, seemingly without looking to see if this issue has been raised in cancer social media before. Does she really think cancer patients have not thought about this, written about this before, that she is the first person to consider this? (Eye roll.) How arrogant are these article commenters that tsk tsk cancer patients with their “if you make your illness public, expect controversy” type of criticisms? Very arrogant. I REPEAT: CANCER PATIENTS HAVE ALREADY THOUGHT ABOUT THIS, YOU ARE NOT TELLING US SOMETHING NEW. But of course the general public does not think cancer patients are able to think of any issues on our own—they must still think we do not research our disease and treatment options, given all the unsolicited advice they feel compelled to give. (Read the first paragraph of this re-post, and also see here for more on that.)

One last thing. It has been implied that cancer patients who share personal items so publicly must think we are immune to criticism because of our cancer, like we think our proverbial cancer cards give us a free pass. That would be an interesting thought—IF what the cancer patients were actually saying was being discussed. But given that not only Bill Keller, but MANY people, so totally and utterly got Adams wrong by calling her the standard bearer for warriors when the complete opposite is true, how can this criticism even be true? One cannot be criticized for something that one absolutely did not do!

Real discussion can only happen if listening (or fully reading everything, not “perusing”) is happening. All I see are people wanting to confirm preconceived notions. If some folks would read and listen to how cancer patients are debating the issue of using social media to discuss such personal matters, maybe they could cure some of their ignorance. Being anyone from an allegedly highly professional journalist to a person who thinks they are smart enough to make a comment does not grant immunity from being called out on the unwillingness to shut up, listen, and learn.

Original post link provided in title, to read comments if the reader cares to do so.

If You Don’t Approve of Preventative Mastectomy Don’t Get One

Posted on September 1, 2013 by Cancer Curmudgeon

When I recently came across yet another criticism of “unnecessary preventative mastectomy” I reacted angrily. It was on HuffPo, and the article wasn’t even about the preventative mastectomy or the decision to get one so much as the author describing her husband’s reaction, but of course a commenter started in about “unnecessary mastectomy”, thinking all these BRCA folks with their 90% chance of getting cancer just need a little vitamin D. Puhleeze, so tired of this nonsense—does it not occur to anyone that maybe the author did research, already knows and considered whatever tiny-ass piece of advice someone clearly without experience and knowledge—like that particular commenter—could offer? OK, tiny subsidiary rant over.

I am so tired of people judging others’ medical choices. If you don’t like preventative mastectomy, don’t get one. No one, not even other breast cancer patients, let alone anyone else, has any idea of the millions of little details of another’s situation, medical and otherwise, and therefore are never in a position to criticize the choices of others.

But then I think: by sharing her decision (this blogger had previously written about why she’d had the procedure) and writing about it—and by extension, when any of us who put our stories on the internet—are we inviting this judgment? I’m not suggesting anyone stop sharing, not by a long shot. While I’d like to shout at folks like the commenter, “how are any of our choices impacting you—it’s none of your business,” did we make it public business, by, ya know, sharing our business? She put her story out there and she should not expect only bravos and applause, nor should I, nor should anyone. People judge each other all the time, but do we have a reasonable expectation to have them shut their mouths, not share those judgments, when we publicize our choices?

I’m actually not asking a rhetorical question here.

As I consider this most recent fuss that has come into my line of vision, I revisit what makes me write my story and show my pictures. I put my story and my pic here and the complimentary comments are great—I do feel good when I get that support. And it hurt to be told one time in comments on HuffPo that ugly pictures of breast surgery scars should not be posted on the internet (this was during the Facebook kerfuffle).

I certainly am not providing advice about medical choices by sharing my information (see my About page), nor do I assume anyone else’s information or choices will work for me. The more I haunt the internet, the more I think every single case of breast cancer is totally unlike the next. But I like hearing about other options, about other experiences, and other opinions—it helps me think and process my own experience, my questions. For example, I know most breast cancer patients choose reconstruction.  In fact, I’m starting to feel like a freak more and more for just going with a lumpectomy. It seems everyone I read on the blogs had at least a mastectomy, usually double. I wanted to show–hey there are other options and that’s ok—we all don’t have to do the same. So I present my choice, how I got there and what happened with it, as just another experience or example, and maybe someone can benefit from knowing about it.

If I inspire, great, if not, great. I’m sure the folks who complained to Facebook about the SCAR project would just accuse me and my posting of my nippleless breast of being some attention seeking exhibitionist. If people think that, I cannot help it. All I know is, it took a long time for me to find images that matched what happened to me (as I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog, I was clumsy at searching cancer issues on the web for a long while). So the more photos of breast surgery examples there are out there for people to find, and if they can help someone else who is just now going through it, then good. I remember how alone I felt, and I remember the relief I got from seeing images similar to mine, when I finally found them. That is why I do it, it is that simple.

I think back to the woman mentioned above who criticized the influx of breast surgery scar photos on the internet, and her comment to me in which she claimed that if she ever got breast cancer she would deal with it with a positive attitude and not post her pictures on the internet. Funny, I once thought I’d never post pictures of myself either. It is impossible to know what you will do in any situation until you are absolutely faced with it. The blogger inspiring this post was indeed BRCA positive. I got the test planning that if it was positive—not realizing how unlikely that would be—I would just get a double mastectomy and be done with it. It wasn’t, obviously, but even now, I don’t know for certain that if I’d gotten a positive result I would’ve gone through with it. I cannot possibly know that unless it actually happened that way. I literally do not know what I would do in any other situation other than the ones I actually faced. If I cannot even know what I’d do with one little situational change—how can anyone have the temerity to call it an unnecessary mastectomy if they’ve never even been close to such a choice? And even if they were close enough—then they should know how awful the choice is, and why not judging others’ decisions is so important.

Ultimately I think it does not matter if the HuffPo blogger, or me, or anyone, posts our story for anyone to read. If I’d just kept the info quiet, restricted to a few IRL people, I would expect none of those people to tell me if they thought I was right or wrong in my choice—I may have shared my business but it’s still not their call. What does it matter if 15 people, or 1500, or a million people know what I did, no one has the right to question my judgment on medical decisions that impact me alone.

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