As most of you know well, my own health can be very unreliable, and if I’m honest it is something I get fed up with talking about in a social setting. Unfortunately the fact is that I will never have normal health now, and will always be reliant on hospital care at some stage, and this post is prompted by some conversations I have had recently whilst doing my support work. When meeting people for the first time it is usual to explain what connection you have with cancer, to help you understand their experience. This I have done, which has prompted numerous conversations later about how no one would know what I have been through and how well I look. Everyone is very kind and well meaning, and actually I think I do it to others too, but it can be quite tiresome!
Cancer is now my life, and I have chosen to do the work I do, but I still struggle when people ask me how I am. I really don’t want to provoke a discussion, both for them and me, as unfortunately there is always something to talk about regarding my health! I feel that this is a major factor in slowly withdrawing from my previously busy social life, as I am finding it more difficult dealing with this particular issue. One of my ambitions when I was first diagnosed, was to ensure that I wasn’t defined by my disease, but it seems here I have failed miserably.
Wherever I go people know my story, and if I’m not asked about my own health I am asked about something else which is cancer related. The disease has not only consumed my health but it totally dominates my working life too, although to be fair I have allowed that side of things to happen! When you hear that cancer is life changing, they are not joking. It’s yet another thing in life that is hard to understand and explain unless you have experienced it. Again, we are all affected differently, and I do have friends that ‘outwardly’ have recovered from their cancer experience, and are uncomfortable talking about it now, I am aware it is one subject not to mention in conversation. Personally I haven’t been able to be so disciplined, but I guess that is because they have completely finished their treatment, and mine is ‘work in progress.’
I have asked myself many times if the work I do might hold me back from trying to move on, but I have come to the conclusion that I will never be able to do that, as I will be forever in treatment of one kind or another, so cancer is with me to stay, whether I like it or not. But what is the answer to this? If people don’t ask how you are you may consider them rude and uncaring? Like most of us it is the first thing I ask people when I see them, but actually I do have a genuine interest in the answer! Maybe that is something else that cancer has taught me? After some time I took to the standard reply of “I’m fine,” and my wife asked me afterwards, why did you say that, you are not fine? It took me a long time to get her to understand that I was no longer comfortable constantly discussing my complex issues with people who although very caring, just didn’t need to know the whole story.
This problem is one that many of my cancer peers face regularly, and is discussed at great length in hospital waiting rooms up and down the country. Most of us have come to the same conclusion, and use the “I’m fine” solution. One of my very talented friends even wrote this piece about it for me. I have shared this previously in a guest post I have written, but felt after recent conversations I have had, I needed to share it again. It had a massive impact on me when it was written and is still so relevant today. My grateful thanks to you Alan!
“How are you?” everyone asks, “I’m fine”
“You are looking well” everyone says, “Yes, I’m fine”
“How’s it all going?” some people say, “Oh, I’m fine”
“You must be strong” people say, “Oh I’m fine”
The simplest of phrases that won’t let you know, all the pain and the fears that I don’t want to show.
I can’t tell you I cry when I sit on my own, and that my mind is in turmoil, I don’t want you to know.
My body’s in pain and it just won’t subside, and I feel like I have left my life far behind
If I told you these things, how could you see, your world is so far from my reality.
It’s falling to pieces inside of my head, so I tell you “I’m fine” as this puts it to bed.
You smile as I say it and you look so relaxed, so I’ll say it each time when you venture to ask, “I’m fine”
How do you deal with being asked constantly about your health, do you side step it and move on? Do you ask people how they are with a genuine interest, or do you feel that is a stock courtesy greeting for us, that no longer requires any in depth reply? As always your views and experiences are much appreciated, so please feel free to share them below.