Friday, September 25, 2009

Drawing the line

There is a fine line of living with 'cancer'. Once you have cancer, you get put in the special group of 'people living with cancer' and you can't get out. Ever. Sorry. That's the bummer part of it. But anyway, sometimes you get to pretend you aren't in the group. For example, you go out in public and unless you tell people, no one knows you have cancer. Unless you tell them.

Why tell people? Well, if its a medical professional who needs to know, its probably wise. If its a new person you just met, its probably not wise (and don't be surprised to see tail lights in the distance if you do). If you can't do something because of medical issues, you probably should. But you don't need to. I was talking to someone I work with yesterday about flu shots because we work in a school system. He said 'will you get a flu shot?'. I said 'yes, but not because I work in a school but because of other health issues.' He didn't need to know. I didn't tell him. No big deal. It could be any number of health issues that would make me more inclined to get a flu shot, not just cancer.

Then last night I was watching one of my secret addiction cooking competition shows. There is one contestant who keeps saying she had lymphoma four years ago. I didn't mind when the show started and don't really think its a big deal. Then last night's episode contained sections where some of the other contestants were saying basically just because she had lymphoma doesn't mean she can cook. She is clearly not the strongest contestant and I wouldn't be surprised if she is axed in the next few weeks. I think the other contestants don't appreciate her skills and feel she falls back on the 'I had lymphoma' thing too often. So my question is did she cross the line of trying to justify why she is on the show - that she had lymphoma not because of cooking skills? I don't know her personally and think her cooking skills are probably pretty good if she made it that far. And chances are the quotes are skewed and taken out of context because they make great sound bites and the network can play up the antagonism between the contestants.

If I was on a cooking show (and I will never be because I don't cook THAT well and I will never be in front of cameras), I don't think I would walk around saying, 'I'm here because I have cancer, not because I can cook'. I don't think this contestant means to be that way either.

But my point is, isn't there a line basically that goes from being someone living with cancer to being someone who is letting cancer define them? A cancer diagnosis can be a life changing moment for people but it doesn't need to define them for the rest of their life. Part of learning to live with it is NOT letting it define you.

Wow! That was a mouthful this morning. I think I need breakfast and more coffee to recover.


Unknown said...

Hi - I know someone who works in the medical field - I think physical therapy but it might be some other part of therapy related to long term illnesses. Anyway, she says that many times, people who live with long term problems do tend to become their disease. Understandable, I think and probably very hard to NOT be that way. Blogging probably helps you stay out of that mind set.

It is always good to read you - I'm glad you keep this up...

Ann aka ButDoctorIHatePink said...

A lot of producers like to "play the cancer card" to get a sympathetic backstory of a character. The runner up on America's Got Talen had cancer, and they mentioned it every week. It didn't matter because she had a divine voice but somehow, they think it makes people more interesting and sympathetic.

So far, I'm only telling the Internet by blogging. :) And, people on a need to know basis. I'm certainly not walking around with an "I have cancer shirt" on - my bald head will do that for me soon enough.

Arla said...

Hi Caroline - what a great post! From the day of my diagnosis, I promised myself that I would not allow this beast to define or confine me. I will get up, dress up, and show up! And I love how you convey that very message - you are a wonderful writer. Thinking of you.


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