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”
I can so relate to this Chris. It is coming up to 10 years since I was diagnosed, (2 days before Christmas 2009) and although like you, I choose to do what I do in supporting others diagnosed with womb cancer & providing information, I feel like every day of my life is taken up with “cancer”
Whenever someone asks how I am I have to decide if they really want to hear the truth or whether they would prefer I just said “I’m fine” when I know that I’m not.
My husband tells people the truth when he is out & anyone asks about me, which often leads to me getting emails or FB messages from them saying they had no idea I wasn’t feeling well and they hope I’ll be better soon!! If only!!
Sadly not everyone recovers fully after a cancer diagnosis, as we both know only too well there are people who will never fully recover & are living with cancer, day after day as well as those of us who are living with long term side effects.
Those of us that become cancer advocates make the choice to do so but we need to take a step back from time to time to be able to enjoy the life that we have post cancer. For me, it is finding a way to do that without feeling I would be letting people down but I have come to the decision that now is the time to put myself first.
The poem you shared is spot on – it is so much easier to say “I’m fine” than try to explain to everyone who asks how you really feel.
Take care as always.
I recognise a lot in what you have said there. Of course I understand totally all the things you mention, particularly the stepping back part. If we don’t look after ourselves we will have nothing to give to others. Fortunately I thrive on my work, and I am no different to many of us as the long term effects of cancer and it’s treatment get worse. But as time goes on, less people ask me how I am, which is great.
We are all very different and will handle ourselves individually, so for me “I’m fine” works well.
Very best to you and Terry, Chris
Love this post Chris X
Thanks Amanda, it is very powerful!
Very poignant Chris. Thanks for sharing x
Hugs Chris. Thank you so much for sharing that. I’m always genuinely interested in how you are doing. But I don’t want you struggling to answer if you don’t feel like it. Hugs
It’s such an important issue in the #cancercommunity I find it helps many people to talk about these things publicly. Thank you xxx
That poem resonates for so many reasons Live the best life you can knowing the choices you have made are helping so many others.
Indeed Sue, it was a lovely poem written for me. We all have skills and experiences which we have been given to share. Hopefully we leave the world a little better than when we found it.
It’s a difficult line to walk Chris. All I can say is I aspire to continue to walk it with the grace which you do. X
Thank you so much for your kindness Aileen. I just feel if my experiences can help others I’m happy.
I know exactly where you’re coming from Chris .. people ask me how I am and I always say “I’m fine” but am I, are any of us? We’re members of a club no one wants to be in so only we know the physical & mental challenges we live with daily .. stay positive, never give up
Thanks so much for your support Peter, it’s much appreciated! Come too far to go backwards
Great to see how well you are doing. So important to hear from people who have suffered not just make a judgement.
Thank you so much. Doing my best to help others through my own experience.
This resonated with me so much. Thank you!
Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Jo
A powerful post….
Much appreciated Ashley!
Wow. Chris you have articulated this so well. I like to be open and honest so people can learn/understand but I’m resorting to “I’m fine” as I see their eyes glaze over. The poem is excellent. Thank you
Thank you for your lovely comments Caroline. It is a really difficult one and something only people who have experienced it will really understand. As we know there is so much more to #cancer than the disease itself!
This really resonates with me. Thank you for sharing Chris.
Hi Danny, great to connect and thanks for your comments. There are so many issues aside of #cancer and it’s treatment that need to get ‘out there.’ I try to engage the way the ‘big boys’ can’t. Vast community being missed
Thanks Chris. I can relate to all of this. Affected by cancer / treatment (past and present) and working in the field – it’s all-consuming. Not for everybody and needs regular sense-checking and self care. Thanks for all you do. Karin
Thanks so much Karin! As you know it can be overwhelming sometimes. The positive for me is that I am so busy with everyone else, I forget about my own situation, however much my body reminds me!
We’re all part of one large cancer community Karin and thanks for what you do too!
Thank you for sharing this Chris. Just read it to my mother who is in the late stages on her cancer and has always said “I’m fine” and it made us both cry. So important to try and understand as the loved one of someone who is living with cancer thoughts without intruding
Thank you so much for sharing this experience so openly Andrea. My intention by writing is to prompt open and honest thinking for people. This is a very difficult area of a #cancer diagnosis.
I totally agree and won’t say much more now but would love to continue talking about this in the future. Please keep talking, I know how hard it must be but so many others benefit from it and you write so beautifully too. Have a good weekend.
Asking someone how they are is practically the same as saying hello. I get it. I do it. I know it’s a loaded question. I often don’t want to answer it honestly. I prefer “It’s good to see you” because it removes assessing and discussing my health.
It certainly can be very challenging for all of us. I really like your choice of all the other options I have seen! Thank you for sharing.
Stay safe, Chris