Dawn Goo is a waitress, former comedian, breast cancer survivor and is now under treatment for Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. She lives in El Paso, Texas. This is a post from her Facebook page which is gathering momentum in social media among people who have experienced cancer, especially those who are dealing with Stage 4 disease.
DAMN IT DAWN! WE ONLY WANT YOU TO BE FUNNY!
“You can’t be sick, you’re fat. You don’t look like your dying. You still have hair. Oh come on, you’ve been dying for years. It can’t be that bad, it’s not like you’re dying tomorrow. At least you have a few years. Stop complaining. Others have it worse. At least you’ve lived your life.”
This is the crap crowding my (Facebook) news feed. Watching my friends hear well meaning people say insensitive things because they lack the knowledge of what they go through.
So, I ask you, are there different degrees of terminal diagnosis? Is one person who manages to live four years into a diagnosis less allowed to be afraid than someone who doesn’t get diagnosed before their cancer has metastasized to their bones, brain, liver, kidneys or another organ? Are my friends supposed to be less afraid because they managed to have positive results with certain cocktails of drugs, while others have stopped responding?
I wonder if you truly know what it’s like to suddenly feel as if your friends or family have become numb to your plight, and the fears you face on a daily basis. Has society really become so desensitized that we view cancer patients that have fought for years as lucky, and they should stop voicing their fears? Is the woman of 30 with young children at home, who has stage four metastatic breast cancer more a tragedy then the 50, or even 70 year old woman with the same diagnosis? And are we truly compassionate if we are distinguishing them that way?
I cannot speak for the hundreds of my friends on my two FB pages that are dying, because though we all share a similar diagnosis of terminal cancer, each of our bodies, and our fights are individual. Some are at the beginning of their journeys, some are at the end. All of them fighters, each of them warriors, but I can talk of the one thing they each have in common. I’m not one to sugar coat things, so I’ll just say it. Death.
Imagine for a moment, sitting in your oncologist’s office, and being told that there is no cure for your cancer. That means that despite what you do, how hard you fight, eventually you will either die from the cancer spreading to your organs, or you will die from the treatments, because your body can’t stand the assault of the medications on your system, or like some, your immune system becomes so weak, that an infection will end your life.
Playing Russian Roulette
You begin the journey of playing Russian roulette, doctors and specialists preparing cocktails of poisons that you pray kill cancer cells before they kill you. You go from having two doctors, to having a slew of specialists, because suddenly your brain, kidneys, liver, or bones come into play. You develop an extensive vocabulary of medical terms, and learn first hand how damaging side effects can be. One day you look down at your medicine cabinet and realize you have more medications for the adverse reactions of the chemo drugs then you do of anything else.
And you get tired. You get tired of feeling as if you have to always be strong for those around you. You get frustrated with people who just can’t understand because they simply don’t get it. If you complain, you feel like you’re letting everyone down. If you, God forbid, entertain the idea of stopping treatment, some will say you’re giving up. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And if you’re me, you sometimes feel alone and isolated.
No matter how strong a person is, for me at least, the thought of dying is terrifying. You can try to put it out of your mind, but it’s always there, lurking behind the laughter, popping out late at night when the world is quiet. Some of my cancer friends, like me, are single. Some have children, some don’t. Some have spouses, some have significant others. What they all have in common is that they will die from cancer.
It breaks my heart to see one of my friends feeling defeated because someone has told them they should feel or act a certain way.
It makes me angry to see someone post that they think my friends shouldn’t post photos of their surgery scars, or show the ugly side of cancer. Ugly side? Since when does cancer have a pretty side? You must be thinking of those pink ribbons again that have sadly, done very little to help find a cure.
Cancer isn’t pretty. It’s vile, mean, and ugly. It eats away at your body, zaps your strength, and often kills your dignity. It can make you angry, and it steals control over your life. I understand the importance of not letting it keep you from enjoying your blessings, but you are misguided if you think that cancer isn’t always on our minds.
We fear each new scan, because being told a medication is no longer working is heartbreaking. Being told your cancer has spread, is terrifying.
Ask yourself this. What if you went to the bathroom, and when you wiped yourself, you bled because your skin is paper thin and prone to tear? What if your mouth bled and you quivered in pain each morning because putting your dentures in over sores in your mouth that were a result of chemo? What if your skin on your hands was splitting open, and some nights you were in so much pain that there was no comfortable position to get into? What if you everyday you looked at your child and knew you will not see them graduate, or ever hold your future grandchildren?
What if you knew the taste of poison or metal in your mouth every time they hooked up your port to run the drugs in, or if you ever had to watch a nurse put on two pair of gloves, and protect herself from the very poisons they were about to infuse into your body, as you stare at the hazardous waste receptacle that everything those drugs came in contact with go into, and suddenly realized that basically they are dumping poisons into your body, well then maybe you’d understand what my friends go through.
Have you ever had a Charlie horse in your face?
Have you ever had a Charlie horse in your face, your inner thighs, between your shoulder blades? I have. Have you ever thrown up blood? I have. Have you ever been so tired and in so much pain that you eye your bottle of pain meds and think, “it would be so easy?” I have. Nothing pretty or romantic about it.
None of us choose to be warriors. If we had a say, we’d certainly not ask to be inspirational as opposed to being cancer free. But we were dealt a hand, and we accept it. We don’t expect you to get it, we only ask that you respect our individual way of handling it. Some of my friends speak out and become advocates for research, some are more quiet. Some share their day to day struggles, and post openly about their pain. All fight in their own way. It’s wrong to criticize any of my friends for being human.
If you don’t agree with what they post, just unfollow, and their posts are not on your news feed, but don’t comment insensitive things just because you think they should behave a certain way. I have friends on here with terminal cancer, I have friends who have won their battles. I have friends who are planning their end of life care. All warriors, all beautiful people.
I emphasize all the time, be kind. Watch your words, because words can lift a person up, or they can be a weapon with the power to break a person down. Try to understand, that for a lot of us, our pages are a community of support that we simply don’t have anywhere else. You don’t have to agree with what we post, but I think that decency and respect should be a given.
You can’t walk in our shoes, we get that, but please don’t think you have the right to decide our paths. Please stop reporting photos of mastectomy scars as inappropriate, so people’s accounts get suspended, because all you’re doing is keeping a warrior from having support from the people they need.
I have always been honest and open on my page. Some find it redundant, most don’t read my scattered thoughts, that’s ok. It’s cathartic just writing them, just as its cathartic for my friends posting what they do. You can learn a lot about strength from these people.
We are imperfect creatures…yet we’re capable of the most perfect intentions…so be kind. Exercise compassion, even when you don’t understand what the person is going through. Me, I use laughter as a means to make my friends forget for a moment, the thing that rules their lives. I don’t judge a persons choices, or their right to share their thoughts.
If I see something I don’t agree with, I simply scroll down. It’s easy. Isn’t there enough sorrow and heartbreak in the world, that we needn’t add to it by taking offense at something someone posted online? Is it really necessary to hurt someone just because they think differently or have different beliefs?
I had tears watching one of my friends be attacked because she wanted the right to end her life before being put in hospice. I cried watching one of my friends repeatedly have her account shut down because she posted her photos of her mastectomy scars. And it seems every week I’m in tears because another person has lost their battle, and their account goes silent.
We have enough in our lives to deal with, and often, we just want to be heard, to be validated, to know that our struggles mean something. Now I’m rambling, so I’ll end this rant of mine, and leave you with one last thought, taken from another one of my posts….
Each of us have mountains to climb. The height or difficulty of my mountain, does not lesson the height or difficulty of someone else’s. It’s important that we all remember that, and respect that each of us has struggles, and my pain is no more acute to me, than someone else’s is to them. So I try to practice kindness, understanding, and empathy. There are no bad side effects from that. I really believe, if we were all quicker to listen, slower to speak, and just practiced being kind to one another, we’d all be a little better off.
Dawn Lynn Goo