Reading about someone else's crappy time with cancer is just an extra emotion I don't need right now. I have all the emotions I can handle right now.
©ikostudio / Adobe Stock
This article is a bit cheeky of me, I suppose, as you’re here, reading this. But I thought I should come clean: “I never read cancer blogs.”
Nor do I read cancer books, watch cancer documentaries or films.
There. I said it.
I mean, I used to, before I had cancer. I’d read all sorts of things and be all “Wow, that person has this Thing, and they manage to create Stuff. Impressive.”
These days, not so much. I find most people so ‘together’ in their blogs. So positive they are going to survive. That they are Beating Cancer, Battling Cancer, Standing Up to Cancer. It’s exhausting.
That’s sort of why I started writing
I first wanted to write when I got the genetics results that told me I had up to an 80 percent chance of breast cancer, and maybe a 40 percent chance of ovarian cancer. I decided not to write because I was keeping it quiet from my friends and family.
At the time, I was so, so lost. I googled my genetic predicament, looking for people who were going through what I was. I read cancer blogs; found lots of forums and online communities (well, three or four), full of people who had also received similar news. They were mostly still healthy. Because of a close family member’s cancer, they had also gone through genetic testing.
These people went online to discuss what kind of surgery they were having or thinking of having. They bandied about terms like ‘elective surgery’ (surgery you decide to have, instead of technically need to have), ‘mastectomy’ (removing one or both breasts), and ‘oophorectomy’ (removing your ovaries) so freely. I found the conversation terrifying. Not comforting.
Cancer blogs: everyone online is so damn certain about everything
I think these online communities are self-supporting. It’s hard to make these decisions about your body once you know you have the cancer gene. So the people who have made their choice to have surgery are happy to share them. Maybe they even feel better and more certain for sharing them. So they share them, sound certain, become certain, and the rest of us feel even less certain.
All the forums, all the blogs, were from people who were all so certain. And I really wasn’t. I’m really not.
I don’t know if the chemotherapy I had will save my life. I don’t know if the surgery I had (and am still having, over a year later) was the right choice. I don’t know if I truly needed the radiotherapy I had. And, if, by some terrible twist of fate or genetics, you’re in the same boat and reading this for some answers, I certainly don’t know enough to tell you what you should be doing.
I just wanted to say the stuff I write or don’t, is just about not having a clue. And that’s ok.
Someone in my family went to a wedding and asked me what they were ‘allowed’ to say about how I was. I’m from a small village in South Wales (original in the UK, not ‘New’ in Australia). In my village, it’s big news when someone gets a new patio. It especially big news if that patio is bigger than Jeff’s down the road. Have you seen Jeff’s patio? Well, his brother-in-law did the garden for him. Not the one in prison, the other one. You know, the one with the funny ear… It’s that sort of village. So, in my village, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask personal questions if you bump into someone in the street, pub, or the sexual health clinic.
I don’t like it when people talk about my personal life
As I write about pretty personal things online, it’s probably a fair assumption I don’t mind what people know about me. I’m happy to talk about my own personal life, but I don’t like it when other people do it. It’s probably a control thing.
When I write down what’s happening and send it out online, I can carefully navigate what happens next. If I get a comment or question I don’t want to reply to, I don’t have to, or I can fudge some sort of well-meaning answer. If I’m feeling low, which is unpredictable and can be crushing, I don’t have to carry on a written conversation any more than I want to. In person, I’m a bit blunter and a bit more fragile to suggestions of what I should be eating or questions about my boobs. Maybe I am too fragile to read cancer blogs.
The beautiful thing about writing down how you feel is you don’t have to say it out loud. That’s harder somehow. And this whole thing is hard. Not all the time, but it is. Reading about someone else’s crappy time with cancer (or even them having a great time and making me feel like I’m not doing cancer properly) is just an extra emotion I don’t need right now. I have all the emotions I can handle right now.