Somebody stop me before I tell the truth

oopsA late side effect of my cancer diagnosis is that I seem to have lost my filter for my words and actions. It has gotten worse recently. It doesn’t matter where I am or who I am speaking with.

Where did my tact go? Where everything else went, I guess. But I thought people were supposed to become wiser and more cautious about what they do and say as time goes on.

At my job, my boss asks, “so Rebecca, how are you doing today? You seem tense and nervous.”

“Nervous? I am not nervous but if you want to see nervous, come with me to my oncology appointments.”

He takes a deep breath, and then says, “I understand. But how are you feeling?”

“Horrible! But don’t worry, the work won’t suffer,” I reply.

Now, I am not sure that’s the right thing to say to your boss. They might worry they have an employee who was going to “act out” or eventually screw up. But it’s true my work hasn’t suffered. In fact, I tend to be even more productive and work harder when I am under stress and do a damn fine job, too (for the record).

Just recently, at a family Christmas gathering with my fiancé and in-laws, I almost became the Grinch. My fiancé is a few years older than me. In fact, I was the youngest person in the room. Everyone was complaining about aging, a topic I am more familiar with than they realize. When I joined the party to complain about my hip pains, my brother in-law said “you’re too young to have hip pains!” — to which I responded with a forced smile, “I am too young for cancer too!”

I could have gone on to elaborate on my premature cancer diagnosis and how, because of my treatments, I basically experienced menopause at the age of 32, but my mother-in-law gave me a nervous look. She knows I can’t keep anything to myself, especially these days. But this time I decided not to share those stories to avoid having people choke on their Beaujolais Nouveau.

Last, but not least, I contacted my family in the Dominican Republic to wish them happy holidays. I hadn’t heard from them in a while, and when my uncle’s wife picked up the phone, my first words were “you don’t call me anymore. Geez, I am not dead yet!”

She said they’ve been very busy, and then we spoke for almost one hour. During our conversation though, I would catch myself speaking my mind about certain family situations and ending with words like, “…I might as well say it now in case I die tomorrow, right?” and “…because I’ve got nothing to lose now, right? Ha ha ha!!” It’s a good thing my uncle’s wife supports the idea of always speaking up, and doesn’t mind the way I do it.

I feel a sense of desperation. Perhaps this has to do with all the bad news I’ve been exposed to lately. I want to do and say everything. I have this picture in my head of not being able to do or speak anymore, and regretting not doing so when I was able to. I no longer want to be careful with what I say. I want the freedom to let things out. But when is it too much?

I had another realization.

Before Christmas, I received Nancy Stordahl book in the mail and started reading it right away – and am loving it, by the way! The morning of Christmas Day, when we were getting ready to open our presents, I came out of my room holding the book under my arm, ready to continue my reading. It took me a while to realize: perhaps my loved ones need a break from cancer this morning. Maybe I need a break from cancer too.

I haven’t felt the holiday spirit for a few years now. I understand other people take this time to reflect and to find some joy. Personally, I don’t use the holidays to reflect about my life because I find myself reflecting every single day. I am constantly exposing myself to the reality of my health situation. It is the way I live.

But have I forgotten about other people’s feelings – those who live in fear with me? Do they need a constant reminder of my cancer diagnosis? I sometimes forget it is painful for them to deal with that. I live “casually” in cancerland, but they don’t. Our worlds are different. I find myself hitting people with my reality more often than not. It’s what I am now. I can’t seem to find a way to control it because of that feeling of desperation. I want to express myself NOW. As long as I am able to.

But when is it too much?

About thesmallc

I'm Rebeca. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. But there's more to my story: I am an animal lover. I love to cook. I have a wonderful fiancé who doesn't mind walking my rocky path with me. We currently live in New York. ---------------------------------------- “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
This entry was posted in Awareness, Coping after cancer, Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Somebody stop me before I tell the truth

  1. scottx5 says:

    Rebecca, wonder if people not living with chronic disease really understand the wearing down of no real endings? The “get over it” comments I get are all focused on bad things that have happened to people that are now over. I don’t think they understand the notion of permanent change or actual loss. Have to think more about this but part of it is being disallowed from feeling angry.

    • thesmallc says:

      That’s part of it, Scott, but also people’s need to hold on to denial as long as possible. I have been trying to look at the big picture regarding my survivorship and that includes remembering who I was before cancer — how I reacted to those in similar situations and why. Like I still avoid some things in my life and there are reasons for that.

      I also want to find a way to bridge both of my worlds rather than trying to completely separate them or forcing one onto the other (the cancer and non-cancer worlds) — reach some level of balance. But in order to do that I need to be a little flexible while still allowing myself to be me — I know it’s challenging. This is still a struggle for me. After reading your comment, I am not sure how realistic it is for me to have such expectations. Like you, I am still thinking about this topic. I might need to revisit.

  2. illlive says:

    I’ve been following your blog for a little while and I can really identify with the impulse to just say anything that is on my mind! In my case, I think it was high dosage of steroids that brought it about – those really changed my personality, in ways that were both good and bad! Whether or not that is your situation, I urge you to be kind to yourself. Of course we should think about the others who are sharing in our experience and how our situation affects them. But I would not spend too much time with that. I think people can handle a little blunt truth once in a while and if they are close enough to you, they will understand.

    • thesmallc says:

      Thank you for your support and for the great advice. I try to remember to be kind to myself but don’t always succeed at it.

      I can say drugs have contributed to some of my changes, Tamoxifen to be exact — I seem to blame Tamox for everything these days. I also wonder if it is just part of getting older and my new perspective on life after all the challenges I have been forced to deal with. Could be both. I do agree that if people love me and care, they would understand and be a little more flexible with me by allowing me to be myself.

  3. barbigelow says:

    I live full time in cancer land with MBC. I am pretty open and blunt about it which can be off putting to the wrong audience who don’t get my dark humor. Your blog reminds me to be more sensitive and also, to consider my inner circles might need a break from time to time.

    • thesmallc says:

      I’ve always believed in allowing ourselves to go through all the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis (with any stage/type of cancer) and that includes expressing ourselves. I am sure things are different with MBC as there are constant reminders — I am sorry you’re dealing with this. Finding some balance is difficult.
      I am glad we both have a place to come to (our online community) where we don’t have to be too careful and still receive some validation.

  4. Jenn says:

    I love this! It is so helpful to read other people’s thoughts on subjects that have been on my mind. I feel compelled to shove reality down people’s throats sometimes, but need to remember that my loved ones could use a break here and there!

    • thesmallc says:

      Jenn, you all make me feel like I am not walking this path alone. I think part of our frustration with (some) people is that we want them to understand something that they might not be able to unless they go through it. Wish we can find some level of balance.

  5. nancyspoint says:

    HI Rebecca,
    I think it’s all about balance. In my family, (meaning my dad and siblings), no one ever brings up cancer. Ever. I do not come from a family of “talkers,” with the exception of my mother – just one reason I miss her so much. Sometimes I do bring it up anyway because I need to or want to for whatever reason. Luckily my dear hubby understands that for me cancer will never be over. We talk about it a lot. But every once in a while, I sense a real uneasiness from him too. I’ll have to write about that sometime… And then there are my kids… I try to be careful what I say and how I say it while at the same time time being open and honest. It’s hard sometimes to find this balance even with adult children. This is one reason I love my online friends so much, including you. I don’t have to “filter” out much. So I guess I’d say every situation, every relationship is different and both can change on a daily basis. This is one of the many challenges of survivorship. Like always, we need to just do our best and be true to ourselves. And thank you so much for mentioning my book! Thanks for the post. Another great topic.

    • thesmallc says:

      Nancy, you are right when you say it’s all about finding the right balance. So hard to do. It’s interesting you mentioned how it’s different with people in your family. I find myself being more open with some than with others, mostly because I want to avoid arguments. Most people in my family avoid talking about cancer, in fact, I was advised not to even mention the word at one of my relative’s home when I was visiting D.R. a couple of years ago, “my husband doesn’t want to hear about cancer in this house,” I was told. I told her that I hope if she ever gets cancer, he doesn’t run away (ugh! sorry, had to say this). And by the way, I too sense a real uneasiness from my guy who is also my caregiver. I need to remember to be kind to him as he is in pain because of my diagnosis.

      I am very glad for our online community too. It feels great not to feel alone. Thank you for always being here, Nancy.

  6. Great post! Lots of points to think about–I do need to reflect about maybe “scaring” loved ones by my living casually, as you say, with cancer.
    But then I think back to something that happened well before I got cancer, from my working in retail hell days. (story time!!) I was a manager of an outlet store in a resort area–the kind of place people take bus trips to on Saturdays for the cheap shopping. In addition to selling clothes (and credit cards (how many times do you hear save 10% if you apply for our charge/rewards card today–ugh!), I managed people, and yeah, stock levels. I KNEW if we were out of a size/color in our stockroom–it was my job to know that. When a customer asked me if we had anymore of this item in her size and I told her no, she suggested I check in the back. Now, this was the end of my retail career, I was MORE than ready to move on, and I did shortly after. It had been a long day in the summer, the store was trashed and I was tired. So when this woman said something implying I should still check anyway, implying I was lazy/not doing my job–you know, the stereotype of the lazy shop girl (I was in my 20s but looked way younger)–I snapped. I told her I WANTED her to buy it, to buy as much as possible, because the more customers spent, the more we went over our store sales goals, and I could get a bonus. In short, it was all about the money for me, so I wasn’t blowing her off and being lazy. And this was true; the bonus really was the incentive.Was I rude? Maybe. I know I smiled to soften my words, didn’t shout at her or anything. Just wanted to bring it home to her what really was at stake. (Just saw a lovely post about how stupid 40-something men are, thinking young female food servers and retail workers are flirting with them by providing good customer service–duh! Why does no one ever realize we are motivated by money too?)
    The point of this over-long anecdote?
    I used to think cancer made me this person without a filter, especially on my blog. But I guess I’ve always had this urge to make people see things the way they really are. Now, is this a good thing or bad? I don’t know. Personally I think it is good to force people to view things with a different perspective. Maybe what cancer really taught me is that most folks don’t want a new perspective. Another one of those lessons I got from cancer that are “wrong”–I’ll include it if I ever get around to writing that post.
    Thanks for the thought provoking ideas!! xo

    • thesmallc says:

      Oh I have some retail stories too, haha! I didn’t enjoy that job and I too was in my 20’s (not managing). Only did two years of it, then moved onto becoming a vendor. More flexible hours.

      It’s an interesting point you bring up. Was I always someone without a filter? Probably but there were exceptions. For example, I wasn’t into splashing my breasts in front of every doctor. I always felt uncomfortable when I was being examined — shy and embarrassed. Hated being touched (didn’t matter if it was a male or a female doctor). But ever since my diagnosis, I don’t care anymore. I even welcome interns and let them all see the reality of breast cancer. Same thing is happening with my words. In most cases, I had a “big mouth” — as I’ve been told — but there were things I avoided because I felt I had ‘something’ to lose. I was more careful. Now it sort of feels like I don’t have much to lose? Like I ask myself, why should I stay quiet anymore? Isn’t the point of communicating to get a point across? To allow some form of healing? Or perhaps to seek some form of discovery? Or to simply release a frustration or pain.

      Like you, I’ve often spoken to bring some level of awareness about someone or a situation. But I guess in this case I wonder if I am forgetting that I’ve been diagnosed with something really scary to most people, not to mention, some of these people fear losing me. At the same time I don’t want to pretend. Maybe I want to turn my situation into something more casual as a coping mechanism…for all of us.

      And I agree with you, there’s nothing wrong with forcing people to view things with a different perspective. Thank you for sharing your story and your perspectives. xo

  7. Rebecca, it’s a balancing act between blurred lines. I think it’s something we just feel in each situation — and usually after the words have fallen out of our mouths. xo

    • thesmallc says:

      Eileen, you’re right, a lot of times I realize what I’ve done after the fact. I sometimes surprise myself. Finding a level of balance is hard but we do our best. xo

  8. Thr_yet says:

    Rebecca, you are correct in some of this being “getting older.” I found myself saying things that I would never have said ten years ago, and maybe even five years ago. But now with the diagnosis of cancer, it’s an entirely different thing. I, personally, am still trying to process the whole idea and come to terms with it. Once that word is said, your whole world changes and it’s not a slow, methodic change; it’s immediate! And then you seem to no longer have any control in what happens. Oh, they let you make decisions, but most times you are really making uninformed choices and haphazard guesses about your course of treatment. After a few weeks of that, it is hard to even think about what you are saying because you are only hoping that you might live more than five more years. You are not alone in this world of saying things that you sometimes wish you hadn’t or just letting it all out. So often I find people are uncomfortable about even talking, or trying to, with you because they don’t know what to say, so they tell you they understand and we all know that unless they’ve been there, done that, they don’t understand. I made the choice not to tell people I work with because I wanted some kind of “normal” in my life and if I didn’t have to face them, their questions, looks, etc. everyday, I could have that. I was right – it is the only place that still feels like “before the ‘c’ word”. I wish I could learn to be more patient with that because maybe I could educate rather than criticize. Tolerance and patience is what I am trying to do this new year.

    • thesmallc says:

      Exactly! It is a drastic switch and one that forces you to skip different stages of your life, leaving you with no sense of preparation — not that anyone is ever prepared to deal with cancer. I think that’s part of the problem — that there’s no warning, no training, and rarely any time for analyzing. You’re forced to deal with each situation as it comes. In a way, I feel rushed too.
      You do what’s best for you. I had to inform my employer at the time of my diagnosis because I needed some time off to go through treatments. Then eventually everyone knew. Letting everyone know was a slow process for me as well.
      You just described a lot of what most of us go though everyday. I wouldn’t pressure myself to tolerate too much. You’ll know when the time is right and also how much you can take, but first we start with being kind to ourselves.

      Stay well! xx

  9. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  10. Bev says:

    I say this with an open heart and strong support as I too have cancer….When it’s bitter and spite filled. Cancer or not, no one wants to hang around with an exposed cold sore. IF possible, find the crazy, stupid, ridiculousness of the situational irony as an ongoing comic strip. But not everyone’s mind is as twisted as mine, but that’s is how I see my life now. And for whatever reason FOR NOW, it’s working. Also, weed out those non-benefical loved ones & friends. That’s a HUGE help. Good luck, Godspeed. And fk cancer.

    • thesmallc says:

      I am sorry that you are in this mess too. Glad you are able to find ways to cope. I am still trying to find a balance. I love your advice about walking away from unhappy situations. I’ve written about this topic before — how sometimes it is the healthiest decision we can make for ourselves. I started doing that but it has been a slow process for me (stubborn me!).

      Thank you for reading and for your support. It means a lot. Stay well. xo

  11. bethgainer says:

    Rebecca, this is an outstanding post, and you gave us so much food for thought. I totally get what you mean by wondering if you are saying too much about cancer or maybe letting your internal editor slide a bit. I have to admit, I can get very sarcastic in front of “innocent non-cancer bystanders.” During treatment, I would say things to my co-workers like, “I enjoy going to cancer races; because I have cancer, I can get stuffed animals!” and “Frankly, I’m not surprised I have cancer — after all, I’ve been preparing for such a diagnosis all my life.” I don’t know what I was thinking, but I know I made people uncomfortable with my brazenness.

    All you can be is yourself. I know that our writing in the blogosphere is another way to express our reactions to cancer and its collateral damage — not just physical but emotional damage. I think it’s necessary for our psyche to write about these experiences.

    I come from a family of people who keep things quiet. They do not like airing one’s dirty laundry publicly. I don’t think they get me, and I believe this is why they don’t read my writings. My “coming out with my cancer story” is not something they are comfortable with.

    Just be you. Great post!

    • thesmallc says:

      Beth, most of my family members do not read my blog (maybe one, but she went through cancer too). Most of my friends do not either. I keep my social media pages separate so I can have that one place where I can say all I want.

      It’s interesting how ‘casual’ we become about our disease. People aren’t ready for that kind of talk until they necessarily have to deal with it themselves, and once they do, they want to be done with it — except there’s no such thing as ‘being done’, as you know.

      I don’t like the feeling of being shut down (some people have called me “a dark cloud” – the nerve!). Like, how are we ever going to be able to address situations with less pressure and more, should I dare say, preparation, if we avoid such topics? And this makes me think of MBC too. Yes, maybe reminding people about my cancer can be overwhelming but people like to forget things that don’t affect them directly. And I think that’s the thing with me, I don’t want them to forget. I want them all to remember and to be aware. Otherwise, how do we make progress?

      I do try to be myself but it almost feels like it is unrealistic for me to want to bridge both of my worlds. I am not sure it is possible. The separation is real. But thank goodness we have our community! And thank you for always being here, Beth! xo

  12. Kimberly says:

    What a great post. This resonates with me so much. I have def become less filtered, but am finding that sometimes I just want to gloss over stuff & move on. And sometimes I have been known to dessimate someone, but only if they’ve been incredibly ignorant or incensitive first.

    This is very in tune with a post I’m working on… Well, in my head I’m working on it. Lol! Thanks for this really thoughtful post. xx

    • thesmallc says:

      The level of my frustration increases when I deal with ignorant and insensitive people so I completely understand where you’re coming from, my friend. Some things just need to be said, ya know? But I also understand the need for letting some things go (“cuz ain’t nobody got time for that!”).

      I look forward to reading your upcoming post (when you’re ready)! xoxo

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