Generally when I’m at the hospital, I try to keep myself to myself in the waiting room and not listen in on people’s conversations, but today, with my doctors an hour behind, no phone to play with or anything to read, I had nothing else to do but to people watch.
Over the years I’ve noticed that some people with cancer look very sick and some don’t. Today I also noticed there was a real mixture of hair styles in the waiting room, and it dawned on me that I never see any bald men, only women. I can always spot a wig though. Some are convincing, some less so, but the majority of people seem to wear hats and scarves until their hair gets long enough to go without I guess.
Here’s another thing I was surprised about. Every cancer patient who was asked how they were today by a nurse answered “fine.” It got me thinking. Why do people always say they’re fine particularly people going through cancer treatment? It’s not just the physical side effects, it’s the fear and all the emotional effects that come with the disease. When people ask me how I am, I too always give a very brief answer- I save the real truth for my doctors because they press you for answers, but even then I play it down. I say I’m fine or I’m ok, sometimes I’m even great. I’m never terrible or anxious or depressed, at least, you will never think I am.
Basically if I’m not dying or in extreme pain then that’s a bonus for me because they are both possibilities and that’s the worst situation I could be in I suppose. Then I started to think about why I generally answered that question the same way. Was it habit? Was it tedious talking about my health or problems all the time? Does people’s pity make me feel a whole lot worse? Yes to all three of those reasons, then there’s the feeling shame, feeling weak, the list goes on and on…
The thing is, If cancer was a giant piece of poo and you painted it pink and threw a load of glitter on it, it’s still a smelly rotten poo underneath. You’ve not got rid of the problem by trying to cover it up and making it look and sound pretty. Sometimes pretending you’re fine all the time is exhausting too. You’re not just lying to others, you’re lying to yourself too living in a bubble where you’re invisible.
When the nurse asked me how I was today, there was a brief second where I remembered all my problems and another brief second following where I decided I wasn’t going to talk about them. What I really wanted to say today was I’m tired. I’ve not been sleeping very well. I’ve got a low red blood count and I’m borderline for a transfusion. I’ve got aches and pains over my body which I worry about, and I still have headaches since the radiotherapy ceased which makes me anxious. I’m nervous about the scan I’ve got coming up in August which lets me know treatment is still working. I’m annoyed that I don’t have the energy that I should have for my age and I want to do normal things but I struggle with tasks that require too much exertion.
If you scratch the surface a bit, really what I’m trying to say is-we shouldn’t be expected to tell people we are fine just as we shouldn’t expect to always feel fine. Sometimes we feel really shitty and that’s ok and sometimes we just want to tell the truth, and that’s fine too.
Love Caroline x