I don’t know about you, but sometimes it seems to me like there are way too many people telling cancer patients how to feel, how to act, how to do cancer and yes, how to do survivor-ship too. Do you remember when you were little and afraid of the dark? Trust me. This is going somewhere.
Well, maybe you weren’t afraid of the dark, but many kids are. I vividly remember waking up one night and not being afraid of the dark, but rather being afraid of a strange and very scary formation I saw at the top of the door frame in the corner of my bedroom where the walls met the ceiling. It was caused by some combination of darkness, moonlight, shadows, architecture and my imagination, of course. I remember one night after lying there afraid for as long as I could stand it, I finally mustered up the courage to bolt out of my bed and raced into my parents’ bedroom. I hesitated to bolt because I was convinced whatever that thing was would surely grab me on my way out the door.
My parents probably said something like, there’s nothing to be afraid of; it’s only your imagination. Go back to bed.
Do you ever wonder how kids feel when they are afraid and then told, there’s nothing to fear?
Talk about no validation. Just because someone tells you there’s nothing to be afraid of or that everything is fine, it doesn’t mean you stop being afraid.
It’s sort of the same deal with cancer, emphasis on sort of. You sometimes don’t get validation for your fear, your anger or whatever you might be feeling.
After a diagnosis, often times we are told via subtle or not so subtle messages how to feel and how to act. We’re not told to go back to bed, of course, but we are often told things like:
Be strong. Be brave. Stay positive. Be tough. Fight hard. Kick ass. Be a warrior. You get the idea…
Then all through treatment in addition to these suggestions for how to cope, we are told things like:
It’s only hair. It’ll grow back. You can do this. You can beat this. You’re only given what you can handle. There must be a lesson for you in this. You only have two rounds of chemo left. You’re almost done. You don’t look sick. Chemo’s not bad these days.
And if you’re lucky enough to wrap up treatment, there’s advice freely offered again on how to feel and what to do:
Don’t look back. Move on. Find your new normal. Let go of the past. You’re a better person now (if not, why not?) What did cancer teach you? Stop trying to rewind your life. Be grateful, you’re alive aren’t you? And the stunner to me, what gift did cancer give you?
I realize some cancer patients like hearing these kinds of things, which is fine. But many of us don’t.
Regardless, what I am wondering is why is there this tendency in the first place to tell cancer patients how to feel or how to act?
I know it’s all about encouragement, but still…
Why not just allow for genuine-ness? Why not stop trying to fix or make light of things?
Aren’t there other ways to encourage?
Do we tell people with other ailments the same kinds of things?
Maybe we do, though if so, I don’t think it’s as prevalent.
Does it matter?
I say no matter what struggle a person is dealing with, whether it’s the child who wakens in the night and is afraid of the dark, or whether it’s a cancer patient facing a whole heap of unknowns, it might be a good idea to stop telling them how to feel.
Listening, validating and allowing genuine feelings to be felt might be a better option.
Then the channels are opened up for offering some truly meaningful guidance and support.
Regarding your cancer experience (or your loved one’s), do you get sick of others telling you (or them) how to feel and what to do?
No matter where you are in your cancer experience, do you ever feel pressured to feel and/or act a certain way?
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