We’re all so programmed to minimize our experiences. I hear it a lot among women with breast cancer. Whether it be in a discussion board or face-to-face conversation, it doesn’t take long for someone to say “I’m just dealing with hair loss” or “I’m only just stage two.” I think there are two sides to this coin. On one side, we know that someone else always has it worse. And, on the other side, we’re relieved that we’re not that someone else.
Even at Stage IV I can preface a statement with “I’m just.” I’m just taking Tamoxifen and haven’t had to deal with the horrors of chemical warfare; I have had no surgery and still have my breasts. I just have metastasis to two spots in my spine, not every bone in my body. I just have some spots on my lung, but not in my liver. I’m just into the beginning of my disease, I’m not in hospice. Yeah, someone always has it worse.
But that doesn’t minimize how I feel. How disgusted I am that the back pain has returned in earnest when I thought it had become manageable only a week ago. The times I get annoyed when the phone rings and I don’t feel well enough to talk to the person on the other end. When I hate to call the doctor. When I say I’m just fine because I don’t want to bore my friends with the cancer. How angry I am that only eight months ago my biggest worry was whether or not I’d have enough money to retire well, now I wonder how long I’ll live. I asked a colleague how he was in the face of his cancer treatment as I hadn’t seen him in some time; he’s quite exceptional and I’m sorry that he’s been going through that hell. He sent me an email and mentioned the challenges associated with chemotherapy not unlike the many women who have lamented hair loss, a metallic taste, and perpetual runny noses. “But,” he writes, “I forge ahead with work and professional responsibilities.” I read that as a personal criticism–but that’s all on me and has nothing to do with my colleague. As far as I know, this person has no idea of my circumstance. It’s just the rawest edge of my personal experience. The one that, no pun intended, cuts to the bone.
Someone, somewhere, always has it better.