A series my friend the Cancer Curmudgeon has written titled, “The Disease Olympics,” has given me the nudge I needed to finish writing this post. Check out Part 1 of her series and then follow the links to Parts 2 and 3. All are well worth a read. I’ve been sitting on my thoughts for this post for a while and finally, this seems like a good time to finish it and put it out there. My mind is still clouded by grief, so hopefully I won’t regret this decision later. As always, my intent is to open further dialogue, not to step on toes.
This discussion about the hierarchy of pain/suffering in Cancer Land originated (at least for me) with another thought-provoking post by our friend, Marie. You can read that post here.
Cancer or no cancer, how do you feel when you hear someone say, you should be grateful, so and so has it much worse than you do?
If applicable to your situation, how do you feel when someone says, well at least you didn’t lose your hair? As if hair loss is the defining distinction between really suffering through cancer treatment or not, right?
How do you feel when someone says, well at least you can thank your lucky stars you’re not metastatic?
If you’ve ever lost an elderly loved one, how do you feel when someone says, at least your loved one lived a long life?
If you’re like me, you might feel as if your pain is not being validated. You might feel as if your loss shouldn’t hurt as much as it does.
Such comments not only sting, they make you feel resentful, do they not?
When my mind is not so jumbled by grief, I will be writing more about the hierarchy of grief that exists.
In this post, I want to focus on the hierarchy of pain, misery and suffering within the breast cancer community itself. Dangerous topic perhaps, but an important one nonetheless. Again, I am hoping to continue a dialogue, not step on anyone’s toes.
There’s nothing wrong with comparing yourself to others. We all do it all the time. It’s comforting to find others with similar interests, backgrounds, dreams, skills and yes ailments and diseases. It’s human nature. It’s also human nature to rightly (or wrongly) assume that the grass is always greener on the other side. Again, it’s human nature to compare, even when talking about cancer. Doing so can actually be helpful.
Lately there has been a fair amount of discussion about divisions in Cancer Land, or more specifically, in Breast Cancer Land. Personally, I don’t see these divisions as anything new. They’ve always been there, but just like with many issues today, social media has a way of amplifying things.
My hope is that social media also has the potential to open up discussions and in doing so, potentially to build unity as well.
Yes, there are divisions between the various types of cancers, of course. And between age groups. And between the types of treatments received. And between those who embrace the pink shenanigans and those who do not. I wrote about all this in my earlier, Walls We Build in Cancer Land post. But perhaps the most troubling division in Breast Cancer Land might be the one between metsters and non-metsters.
Don’t think these divisions exist?
There’s nothing wrong with divisions and hierarchies of pain and suffering. To deny the hierarchy, is to deny reality. As one of my metster friends recently said in an email,
Dying trumps everything.
Amen to that.
The problem arises when the walls go up.
I see hierarchies and walls in Breast Cancer Land as very different things.
In Breast Cancer Land (and elsewhere), there will always be some who have it “easier” and there will always be some who have it worse.
The problems arise, and become more divisive, when we shut others out by putting up walls.
And there are walls in Breast Cancer Land.
One very over-simplified example is closed Facebook groups.
I know, I know. Sometime these groups are helpful, maybe even necessary. But I am finding that I am interacting less and less in certain closed groups for many reasons which I will not elaborate on here.
I worry about walls we build in Breast Cancer Land because we all need one another’s support. Metsters need the support of non-metsters. But guess what? Non-metsters need the support of metsters too. And please, not all non-metsters belong to the rah-rah, pink boa-wearing, pink ribbon embracing, I kicked cancer to the curb club. Many of us loathe stereotypical shenanigans.
I will be an ally for my friends with metastatic breast cancer. Always. Likewise, I would like metsters to be an ally for me and other non-metsters as well, of course.
Have I felt supported by metsters?
Have you? (If applicable)
Of course, many of my dearest and most loyal readers, supporters and friends are metsters. But I would not be entirely truthful if I didn’t also say, at times I have not felt supported. I could elaborate further on this, but it’s probably wiser not to.
Perhaps I’m in somewhat of a unique position. I am not metastatic, but my mother died from metastatic disease. I get it. But yet, I also am well aware that until it’s your body, well…again, dying trumps everything. Yes, everything.
Still, this does not mean the cancer experience of anyone should ever be belittled, downplayed or invalidated. For starters, and among other things, that slippery-slope game of one-up-man-ship, or as Cancer Curmudgeon so cleverly coined it, one-down-man-ship, should be avoided when possible.
The hierarchy of suffering in Breast Cancer Land is real.
The walls are real as well.
The hierarchy is unavoidable.
The walls we build need not be.
Do you feel there are hierarchies and/or walls within the breast cancer community and if so, do think they are more or less the same thing?
If you’re metastatic, do you (generally speaking) feel supported by most non-metsters?
If you’re a non-metster, do you (generally speaking) feel supported by most metsters?
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