Crossing into the world of cancer, I discovered a world that I only saw dimly before, despite running an online community for cancer patients for the last ten years.
I hang out with a bunch of cancer people on Twitter. They refer to themselves as carcinomies and everyone else as cancer muggles — people who barely understand this other world. Carcinomies deal with their cancer with a dark humour that would shock the muggles.
So many of the platitudes that seemed meaningful before seem empty now. I don’t need to have hope. I am not a warrior or a hero. Things won’t work out. I did not get cancer because of my dietary habits or my poor choices in life. My tumour is not an invader from the outside — it’s a part of my body that has gone wrong. I won’t get better, no matter how hard I try or how much I have a positive attitude.
The appropriate metaphor for dealing with cancer is that the patient needs care. She does not need to be a warrior.
Carcinomies talk about toxic positivity.
“You can do this.”
“Everything will be alright.”
I can’t and it won’t. I find it more helpful to have a realistic understanding of what is ahead so that I can make decisions rather than pretend that everything will be OK.
Even so, I always appreciate attempts to make me feel better, even if they don’t hit the mark exactly. I mentally translate attempts at kindness, however misguided, into “I’m not very good with words. I just want the best for you” and accept them for their intention, not their literal meaning.
I know that people mean well because I did too before I entered this world.