So, it’s only been a dozen or so days since my diagnosis – with much of that time spent holed up in the little sanctuary we call our home – and I’ve already become familiar with the phenomenon I’ll call Cancer Face. Even my husband, who is thankfully cancer free, has already been the recipient of Cancer Face, also known as “the Look”.
For someone with a serious illness, the Look is the expression of pity, sadness and concern bestowed upon you by someone who Knows (about your diagnosis, or your spouse’s diagnosis) and is seeing you for the first time since hearing the news. (At least I hope it’s just the first time…) An added bonus (or not) is when the eyes of the bestower of the Look actually well up with tears as soon as they are laid upon you.
Don’t get me wrong. I have been touched beyond belief by how many people care about what’s going on with my health, and are truly concerned for us and the outcome of all of this. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around it, actually…the sheer volume of people who have reached out to us during this time. I feel loved, honored, grateful (and more than a little unworthy of all the attention, but that’s my stuff).
The flip side of being the recipient of these strong reactions is the feeling that maybe this diagnosis is worse than I thought. Given the fact that I still look and feel the same (not having yet been sliced open or pumped full of poisonous chemicals), it’s a little surreal to watch friends, family and strangers freak out over the news. It’s like it’s happening to someone else. I mean, people I do not know are running marathons in my name. There is a “community quilt” being made in our honor. Meal calendars are being established to provide food for our family. I’m receiving cards, gifts and e-mails from strangers all over the country. Crazy. Very, very nice, but still crazy.
I feel very detached from all of the hoopla, at least so far. My inner voice is saying that all of this energy shouldn’t be spent on me. After all, I’m going to be just fine. Maybe it’s denial, but right now it’s hard for me to imagine that I might be incapacitated for a period of time at some point. And there are way better causes out there, those with far greater needs. Plus, accepting help is something with which I’ve always had difficulty. It’s clear that my higher power has some lessons in store for me in that arena, among others.
The other thing that has evoked strange emotions (foreign, at least, to me) are the offers to “take” or “keep” my brand new baby girl. She’s just two weeks old – technically not even yet full term – and you’re talking about me farming her out? Hell no. I hate being away from her for even a couple of hours right now. The thought of being away from her for a longer period of time – or for strangers to be taking care of her so early on in her life – is inconceivable to me. This was supposed to be our time to bond as a new little family, and I don’t want to lose a minute of that experience.
I was feeling something I’ve never felt before in the wake of these offers…something on which I couldn’t quite put my finger. Then I realized: this my newly awakened, inner “mama bear” coming out. In all of my 44 years, I’ve never felt anything quite like it. But, all at once, there it was…this feeling of wanting to protect and shield my child, to hold her close and never let her go.
I think there’s also something else at play here – a place to which I can’t and won’t fully allow myself to go at this point – and that’s the urge to spend as much time as absolutely possible with this little girl while I can. I’m feeling something very close to the the same thing about my husband as well. I just want to swallow them up right now. I can’t get enough of either of them.
These feelings made me feel kind of selfish/kind of bitchy until I processed them out loud with a couple of trusted friends and also ran them by my doctor. And what I now realize is that I can give myself permission to be selfish with my time with my husband and baby right now. Also that this little girl, and my fervent desire to be here to watch her grow up, is going to be key to my recovery.
This is a hell of a motivator:
And if you’ve never held a baby skin to skin, you’re missing out on some good medicine indeed (just ask my husband). It’s good for both of your souls.
So right now, that’s my focus….all of the wonderful things in my life that make this fight worth fighting even more. That, and staying as strong as possible so that I can take care of my child and be present for her first few months.
As for getting Cancer Face, I have to realize that this isn’t just happening to me. It’s happening to my husband, daughter, parents, brother, friends and family. And to all of you too. We all process fear and grief differently. My way so far is to just pretend to be strong so that I don’t slip into the territory of wallowing in the “what ifs”. And my discomfort at your tears is very likely because my tears are very close to the surface too.
But we’re going to get through this, all of us, each in our own way. Whether you’re walking through this with me personally, or you’re engaged directly or indirectly in your own battle with cancer or [insert shitty situation here].
Love and gratitude,