Maybe you have to know the darkness before you appreciate the light.
If someone had asked me three years ago what I thought a person going through chemotherapy looked like, my answer would have been the polar opposite of what I think now. Conveniently, my perceptions about it changed because I happened to get it myself, but now I get to go through the rest of my life with an entirely different perspective.
Cut to a couple of months ago…at this time I’m probably on cycle 3 of my 6 assigned chemos. I’m going on a trip to Blue Mountain with some friends and the first night goes by fast as nights out do. I wake up at 6am to the sound of snoring all around me, and run to the bathroom and barely make it to the toilet until I start throwing up violently. This happens over and over and I’m up until 8am. They’re still all sleeping. As positive as I can possibly be, I have to admit that this is pretty brutal. I’m not surprised this is happening either as I had my long chemo a few days ago. I start crying because I hate throwing up, and I’m still not used to feeling queasy. That’s when I hear people who are still partying yell out “WOO! Blue Mountain!” and I have two thoughts. The first thought is that 23 year old Rochelle would have been able to stay up all night like those guys. That girl loved a good party. The second thought is that I’m at Blue Mountain. Me, the one with cancer who just had chemo a few days ago. The girl who was just having a pity party about the same thing a few moments ago. Perspective, right? This second thought honestly blows my mind. I’m still living my life, why on earth should I complain about having to barf a little more than usual. I could be having it so much worse, and I should be grateful that I’m not.
I had someone visit me when I started my treatment and comment with surprise on how I was the same. I thought this was strange because who else would I be? I’m still the same person I was before I had this disease. Cancer hasn’t changed who I am; I’m going to continue to enjoy nights out, sleepovers, and dinners with friends. Because I now realize the importance of quality time with people who truly love and care for me, I’m going to continue to accept these invites as long as I feel good. I’m still going to be there for those that need me, because I’m not the only one struggling with something. If anything, cancer has only changed me by making me more patient and compassionate towards others.
The people who think I’ve changed now don’t seem to realize that certain phrases and statements may come off a little hurtful or upsetting to those with cancer. Others may want to offer support, but not know how to say it tactfully. So, below are some things that you may not want to say with someone going through cancer, and what they probably want to say back…or at least what I did when these were said to me. I also added some alternatives that you may want to say to offer your support.
- “you don’t look sick” – well thanks to bronzer, eyeliner, my wig and drawn-in eyebrows, you don’t get to see me in my full cancer glory, I work very hard so I don’t look “sick”
- “it’s just hair, it’ll grow back” – do you want to shave your head? no sh*t it’ll grow back, I know that…I just didn’t want to lose it in the first place.
- “what do you think caused it?” – I don’t know nor do I want to start on this guessing game of what I think caused me to have to go through this. This question almost makes me feel like I’m being blamed for getting it.
- “you’ll be okay…I just know you will” – okay, this one I know people have said to me because they want to show they believe in me, but I just want to say “how do you know I’ll be okay because I don’t even know!”
- the cancer look – this one’s not something that’s said but it’s the pity eyes or worried faces…no one wants to be pitied, especially not someone going through this
- “you got this and we got you” – this one is comforting to hear because it reminds me I’m not alone in this fight
- “what do you need?” – sometimes I just need a hug, other times I need a dinner date and gab sesh…it’s nice to know that friends and family are looking out for me.
- “it’s okay to be upset about this” – my boyfriend is the best at telling me that I don’t have to be okay every single day because no one is okay every day
Three years ago, I would have guessed that an individual going through chemotherapy could be always found on a couch or bed with no energy to get up; I would have guessed that they were constantly throwing up, or in a nauseous haze, while they were probably sad about everything. This shows how different I was back then, not just because I was 23 and figuring life out, but positive versus negative mindset as well. I’m very sure there are people who are having a very hard time going through their cancer journey. I’m not saying every one’s story and struggle with cancer is exactly the same, that obviously depends on a few different other factors. However, the people whom I have met either online or in person so far are all kinds of kinds: they’re moms, or they’re still working, or both. They’re living their lives and cleaning the house and doing all of this while their body is fighting off a disease that is set on claiming lives. So am I.
Thank you to all of my friends and family who are front and center fighting this battle right alongside me. Thank you to all of the people I’ve connected with throughout my life who have reached out to let me know they are thinking of me. I hope all of you are thinking of me not with pity, but with pride. I’m still the same Rochelle; I just look a bit different and I’m a little more queasy, but getting wiser and stronger as the days go by.