“You just have to get over it.”
“You need to get beyond this thing.”
“You should move on.”
These are just some of the well-meaning comments that well-meaning people have told me over the years.
“It” and “thing” refer to cancer.
The individuals who told me these things had never been diagnosed with cancer. Of course not. Somehow these people want to view life as a series of children’s chalk drawings, as if to say people who’ve experienced cancer ought to view life as a bright rainbow of colors — and it’ll all be A-OK.
Well, children’s chalk drawings are fragile. Just ask any rainy day.
Truth is, anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer will never “get over ‘it.'” Truth is, once a person is diagnosed, he or she is never the same physically and psychologically. Truth is, telling people affected by cancer to get over it is harmful to our health and psyches.
Don’t get me wrong: we appreciate and savor life and all that jazz, but we are forever changed by a cancer diagnosis.
I remember the day my surgeon told me I probably had breast cancer. I was lying on the biopsy table and literally felt as if I were sinking into the ground. I was in disbelief, and as he conducted his biopsy, I kept telling him I didn’t want it to be cancer. I now realize, that at the time, I was begging him to tell me it wasn’t so.
Two days later, he told me it was so.
I cannot list enough adjectives to describe what goes through a person’s mind when diagnosed with cancer: horror, disbelief, numbness, terror (like crap-in-your-pants terror), and loss of control, just to name a few. I will discuss loss of control — an entire issue unto itself — in a future posting.
For the rest of our lives, we who have been diagnosed with cancer wonder what the rest of our lives will look like. Doctors recommend treatment protocols, without revealing their long-term damage to the body. Not exactly informed consent. Limited treatment options are available to the patient. Again, not informed consent. Poisons enter the cancer patient’s body, perhaps taking a great toll on his or her long-term health. The patient often wonders if the cancer is ever really gone or whether his/her cancer will be the very thing that kills him/her.
Telling us to “get over it” redefines our reality in a harmful way: by denying the ugliness of cancer. Most people who tell us to move on don’t realize how they are affecting us. And perhaps we tell those in our lives that living a quality life is still possible, but getting over cancer is not.
If you wish to leave a comment about your own experience, please feel free to do so. I would love to hear your perspectives on this topic.