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    There’s No ‘Right’ Way to Respond to Cancer


    An acquaintance of mine was recently diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. We don’t know each other super well, but we comment back and forth on Facebook regularly and occasionally see each other at conferences. She just announced her diagnosis on Facebook, and she seemed to be reacting with stoicism and confidence.

    She has had another cancer in the past, and so she knows a bit of the road ahead. She said she feels fine. She said she knows it’s going to be tough, but that she’s planning on working through it and keeping her life as normal as possible. She seemed upbeat and determined. “Let’s do this.”

    The outpouring of concern and encouragement on social media was huge. She’s a bright and caring person.

    I found myself reading her post over again, and again. I admire her bravery. I admire her positive, can-do, “f*** cancer” attitude.

    She’s in the first shock of diagnosis, and I’ve observed that folks first respond in ways that resonate with their personalities and experience. She’s successful and action oriented, so that’s how she’s facing cancer. She plans to beat it into submission. You go, girl.

    She may persevere in that stance throughout her treatment and afterward. I hope so. But if she is not able to maintain that strength, I hope she will be kind to herself. I hope that she will allow herself to change her approach if need be. Sometimes the road is more difficult than we expect. Sometimes we have emotions and fears that aren’t pretty, that we don’t expect. Sometimes we feel like crumbling and curling into a ball. Sometimes we lash out at those closest to us because we can and cancer treatment is tough.

    When I was first diagnosed, I now think that I was a bit of a drama queen. I wallowed in the tragedy and drama of it all for a bit. I’m an extrovert, and I’m embarrassed now to say that I probably liked being the center of all that attention, even if it was in a dire circumstance.

    Then I seesawed back and forth: I was afraid. Then I was confident. Then I was angry. Then I was afraid again. Sometimes I was my best self. Oftentimes, not.

    As my acquaintance goes through her treatment, I hope that she won’t be too hard on herself if she doesn’t always feel that brave, can-do part of herself that is now in the forefront. You will be many selves as you go through treatment. Be kind to them all.


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