Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cancer Made a Liar out of Me

Since the day of my diagnosis, I find myself frequently lying about my cancer.  I wish I could stop, I wish I could share with those closest to me what I am feeling and thinking, but I cannot.  Cancer has made me a serial liar.  

In the beginning, when all I knew was that the biopsy had come back malignant and that further tests were necessary, I thought that a little lie about how I felt would buy me some time and space to think clearly about what I was facing.  Telling family and friends that I had cancer was difficult.  Hearing the shock, fear and near instantaneous grief in their response was harder still.  I wanted to comfort them, to ease their stress and to help them move forward peacefully and with some grace.  I found that if I said I was unafraid and had every confidence that this would be but a temporary issue in my otherwise long life it helped the people I love deal with the diagnosis and alleviated some of the stress that comes with learning that a loved one has cancer.   

Lying worked.  When they believed I had this under control, they were able to relax and gave me the space I needed to deal with my diagnosis.

As time passed and more information became available (additional tests showed that my cancer was in later stages, my oncologic consults indicated a long-term treatment protocol was necessary and included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, my chance of survival was narrowed to only 30%, etc.)  I found that the lies became more frequent and more personal.  The more emotional the reactions among my support group, the deeper the lies I told about how I was coping.   I would boldly lie about my experience to make them more comfortable, lie about my faith in the treatment protocols and the possibility that they would result in a “cure” to ensure they did not lose hope, and lie about my plans for the future so that they could comfortably assume we would have one.  I believed these were things they wanted to hear, things they needed to hear to be able to go about their daily lives without feeling depressed or helpless or constantly worried. 

After a while I grew tired of lying and had little energy for charades.  I thought perhaps that I could share my true feelings with a few people closest to me.  I tried on several occasions to be totally honest about the pain, the uncertainty, the fear and my lack of confidence/hope that I could one day say I beat cancer. My honest feelings were met with fierce resistance.  “Don’t feel that way.”  “Of course you’re going to be fine.”  “You’re just tired/hungry/in need of a pill.” “You need to remain optimistic if you are going to beat this.”…  and so on.   The truth is, no one wants to deal with the very real likelihood that I may not survive cancer or that if I do, the treatment process is long and hard and often debilitating.

Were they lying to me as well – just to keep from having the tough conversations?  Probably.  Do they really believe that it will all be fine and that faith and optimism are enough to heal me?  Probably not.   Will we continue to lie to one another until such a time where I either get the “all clear” or the news that there is little more that can be done?   I’m guessing “Yes.”

 I can’t fault anyone for not wanting to hear what it is really like or what I honestly feel and nor can I fault them for lying about how they are dealing with it.  None of us wants to be in this position and we all seek balance and comfort.  It’s easier to have hope than to face reality.  It’s easier to feign confidence in a cure than it is to share your emotions about the possibility of your death.   So we lie, to each other and to ourselves.

Lying has now become part of my everyday life.  I lie about almost everything cancer related.  I lie about how much energy I have.  I lie about how much pain I have.  I lie about how I feel about losing my hair or how sick I feel after chemo.   I lie about what it is like to be poked with needles on a daily basis, to find little or no pleasure in things I once enjoyed, to be unable to concentrate on much of anything and to sleep through the night. I lie to acquaintances, to friends, to family and to my husband. I even lie to myself on more occasions than I care to admit.  (I do not however lie to the doctors or others on the medical treatment team with regards to physical symptoms or status.  Admittedly, I do lie to them as to how I am coping, primarily because there are often others – husband, sister, friend, etc. in the room with me when those questions are being asked and I must keep up the pretense.)

Cancer has already taken much from me and now, it has made a liar out of me.

I need a place where I can tell the truth about what having cancer feels like and what it is doing to my life.  I need a place to “be” with my fear, my pain and my doubts about the future.  I need a place to deposit my more unpopular thoughts so that I can be more positive and hopeful in my every day interactions.  This is that place. It will be my therapy and if ever I decide to post, perhaps it will be yours, too. 

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