As guests of the Hotel Melanoma, we share the experience of people saying things to us that, while almost always well intentioned, strike us as insensitive, ill informed, or just downright stupid. Over time, I’ve learned (at least I hope so) to laugh it off and chalk it up to a simple fact: cancer flat terrifies people because it reminds them of their inevitable mortality, so they quite often react to your predicament with a big dose of denial. What follows is a ‘recycled’ essay on the subject from my first blog post…
One of the things a cancer survivor needs to get accustomed to is that you’ve had and are still living just about the only major life experience that you aren’t supposed to say much about in polite company, even with close friends and family members unless they’re also staying at your Hotel. People will tell you the intimate details of their problems with spouses, work, money and children. But you can’t speak frankly and openly about the cancer experience, even in a positive way or with humor. Don’t even think about mentioning the elephant in the room—the ever-present fearful apprehension that you may not survive this thing and how you’re trying your best to live, and live well, with that elephant. After all, you’ve completed your treatment so you’re “cured” and it’s time to move on and get over it.
It’s not that the people dear to you don’t care, because they do and perhaps more than you know. It’s just a very uncomfortable subject for the obvious reason that it puts them front and center before something most of us spend most of our lives trying to deny— that we’re all going to die of something, someday. Yikes.
I guess my message to friends and family members of cancer survivors is simply this. Cancer is part of your loved one’s life, perhaps at some times an all-consuming part of that life. But my life with cancer--even at the worst of times I’ve written about on these pages--has still and always been a good life worth living as fully as possible for as long as possible. I certainly didn’t want it and can’t say I “like” having it but melanoma has, nevertheless, been a molding and renewing life experience that I’m not certain I would undo even if I could. It’s simply now a part of my life, not all of my life, and I’ve come to accept that it’s probably coming along for the rest of the ride although I’ll still do my best to abandon it along the way. (Perhaps at a Wal-Mart in some uncomely small town.) I think most survivors feel as I do. So lighten up. It’s okay to talk about it, laugh about it, cry about it, or just get angry and defiant about it just like we do about any of the other struggles and challenges in our lives.