This past year has made me reflect a great deal on breast cancer as a whole, and the many ways it taints the many lives it touches. Not just the patient, but ...
the people who love us, the people who like us, the people who don't like us, the people who don't even know us, and the strangers we meet along the way. Like the pebble in the pond, we all are touched by the ripple of cancer.
There is so much material to mine, I could write every day, all day, about some aspect or another and never run out of ideas — just time (oh, and energy). But I do have one caveat that needs some air time, and the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to put it out there.
Catharsis is inherent in blogging, and it comes from the opportunity to write about some very deep and dark emotions. Much of the time, the dark or troubling feelings are fleeting. They don't stay with me after I put them on the page. But sometimes they do. And the people who read this blog who have cancer get that. They get the process of unloading, they understand the drive to get the bad thoughts out, they take comfort in knowing they are not alone in their dark thoughts too.
But there are plenty of folks who read my blog who don't have cancer. Though they put up a brave front, I know sometimes what I write about scares them. They are afraid I'm "stuck" in my cancer process because I'm still talking about it two years later and really, shouldn't I be over it by now? And because everyone knows a cancer patient who appears to have gotten on with his or her life, who appears to be making lemonade out of lemons, who appears to be doing fantastic given what she/he has been through, who appears to believe that cancer is a "gift," then it appears that I perhaps am lagging behind.
I say "appears" because you can never judge a book by it's cover. Another blogger, Lisa Bonchek Adams, writes with great insight in her latest blog post, "You Look Great; You'd Never Know." And that's precisely the point behind why I blog — and if there is any gift to be gleaned from my experience (see my posts about the anti-gift of cancer here and here, prompted by my friend Nancy's post on the "gift" of cancer here), it is the gift of free expression. This blog is my gift to my mental and emotional health, and hopefully to yours too.
There are lots of times I write things here and don't think about them again. Other times I can barely write about what I DO think all the time. My point is this: Never judge a patient by how she/he is coping with their cancer. I can no sooner "put it all behind me" than my neighbor can decide to grow two heads. Folks with cancer get this. Folks who don't, well, don't. It's really that simple. And I pray that more people will understand that the emotional process of going through cancer is as unique as our personalities. No two people go through it the same way.
On a lighter note, my blogging pal Marie over at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer has asked us to choose our favorite post from 2012 and post a link to it on her blog. I chose something I penned back in April entitled "It's Not My Fault I Got Cancer." It struck a chord not just with me, but with so many of you, too. If you harbor any ill feelings about what you might have done (or not done) to prevent yourself (or a loved one) from getting The Big C, then I urge you to read it and get rid of some of your guilt.
In reviewing some of the posts left on Marie's JBBC blog, I discovered a blogger I hadn't seen before: Stay Strong Cindy, of the blog Surviving Survivorship. Her favorite blog post of 2012 was entitled "Someone Has Cancer" and it's a guide of sorts on what to say and do (and what not to say and do) to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. I think it should be required reading for anyone who knows anyone who's struggling with their health. (And that's just about everyone!) So thank you, Marie, for helping me discover Cindy.
I want to thank you, dear reader, for spending even a moment of your time reading this blog. If I can help demystify the breast cancer or reconstruction experience a little, or make you feel less alone, or empower you to approach a friend with cancer with newfound compassion, then it will be a very good year.
I was re-reading what I wrote a year ago as 2011 was coming to a close, and I realized that it's the people around you, in "real" life and online, who accept and support you on your cancer journey, no matter where you are on it — be it in the land of NED or in the dark recesses of metastasis — that enrich your life and keep you sane. So I'd like to rerun that post to close out this year. I present to you THE RUBIES, which originally appeared on January 1, 2012. (You'll note that Marie was instrumental in that post as well! She is The Pied Piper of Breast Cancer Patients!)
In the spirit of a new year (and inspired by my blogging pal Marie's thought-provoking queries), I want to open 2012 with a question. Anyone reading this post has either been diagnosed with cancer or knows someone who has. It doesn't matter if you are in the former or the latter group; our collective world is shattered and splintered by The Big C.
But among the fallout and the rubble of cancer come The Rubies — the people who keep us grounded, or safe, or sane, or distracted, or engaged during all the rolling ruckus.
The Rubies are there at the right time, in the right place, and we have the foresight to recognize them as the rare gems they truly are.
As a person dodging the minefield of cancer, I am fortunate to have many Rubies. And without the internet I would never have "met" the majority of them. I count among my Rubies the courageous cancer bloggers who are telling their tale with honesty and humor and bravado. They paint a deeper, fuller, more complex and truthful picture of cancer in all its crazy colors — and we all can benefit from their wisdom. I feel stronger and less alone in my struggles because of them. And so I say thank you to the women and men of the blogosphere.
2012 POSTSCRIPT: I had the pleasure of meeting two of my Rubies this year... the first, Shannon #1, I met in California in February; the second, Marilee, I met in Maryland in June. What a joyful experience to meet two of my Rubies! I hope by this time next year, I will have met many more. I'll keep you posted. Until then, peace to you and your family in 2013. And to quote Cindy: Stay strong.
2013 POSTSCRIPT: This morning I read another brilliant post by Lisa Bonchek Adams, entitled "Cancer is Not a Gift." Please click here to read it.