There’s nothing quite as mood-killing as mentioning the “c” word at a party. No really, you should try it sometime. Next time you’re out at a bar or a social gathering, bring up the fact that two years ago you were diagnosed with lymphoma and watch as people start awkwardly shuffling, pulling nervously at their collars or suddenly excuse themselves from the table. I’m generalizing here, of course.
Some special kinds of people can talk openly and freely about this disease without discomfort. They can dive into the real talk without so much as batting an eyelid or clearing their throat. But they’re a rarity. I don’t blame people for not wanting to talk openly about it. It is a societal taboo. It’s one of those things people would rather not mention although almost everyone knows someone who has had, or who has been affected by, cancer. So what is it? What makes this ubiquitous disease so painful to address?
I think it’s because it’s so closely related to death. Cancer’s cousin is death, and death isn’t something people want to bring up. And why would they? Why would people want to dwell on the fact that we’re only here for a relatively short time? That this life is temporary, and these bodies are impermanent and one day everyone you know will dissipate into the ether. Not exactly cocktail party conversation. And so we dismiss these topics and instead, we discuss idiotic presidents, and who’s going to win the league, and what nice weather we’re having. Which is all good and fine; we should talk about these things. Except that sometimes it’s also important to talk about the important stuff. About the death and the dying and the loss and the grief — and our old friend, cancer.
You know those people you instantly connect with in life? The types of people you meet and five minutes in you’re already discussing what happens when we die and why we are here and what is the purpose of it all. Those people who don’t care what you do for a living or how much you earn but want to know how you feel and what you dream about and what drives you. Those are the people I live for. Because something happens to you when you face cancer. You change. You lose the capacity to exchange pleasantries anymore. You’ve been to the darkest depths of your mind; you’ve swallowed the truth of your own mortality in the mirror in the middle of the night, and you’ve come to understand that we don’t have much time. That life is simply too short not to be real.
We must talk about these things. We have to talk about the real stuff, the experiences we’ve had, what we went through, our pain. I’ve found as time passes and I move further away from my experience with cancer that I want to talk about it. I find myself bringing it up more frequently in conversation, with friends, and with strangers. Sometimes I see that initial reaction of discomfort, and sometimes not, but I persist regardless. This desire to talk about it stems from a deep need inside of me to return to that place of fragility and stop myself from forgetting.
Yes, life carries on. Yes, I’m carrying on too, but I carry my cancer with me. I carry my story inside of me, and speaking about it is cathartic. It helps me heal. It helps me not to forget what I went through, my resilience as a being. It helps me empower others. To remind them that life is precious. That gratitude is important. So I speak up and out. And I encourage you to do the same. You might get reactions of discomfort. You might get people who swiftly change the subject. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed or fear being viewed as an attention-seeker. But I say screw it.
Screw what people think, or how they perceive you. Because you know what you’ve been through and how far you’ve come, the storms you’ve weathered and the battles you’ve braved, and those are stories worth remembering, worth being retold, again and again. It’s not about being a victim — it’s about healing; it’s about helping others by speaking your truth, and destroying the stigma around this disease.
Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.