Wednesday, June 01, 2005


On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog.*

But some people are still willing to make all sorts of assumptions.

Here's what someone wrote about me recently (emphasis added):
she has thyroid cancer (which you can't not know about her; she wears it like a badge and often uses it as the conversation stopper when she, as she put it once, has finished using the forum as a diversion from her important issues)
This was surrounded by other invective, but this was the charge that stung the most. Ouch.

But then I started thinking, do I really wear my cancer like a badge? Because that's just wrong on so many levels. It's not something I would do. But maybe I'm coming across that way even though I don't mean to. How often do I bring it up in that forum, anyway?

Through the power of the internet, that is one question I can answer. I used the forum's search tool, and searched for my id ("quieti"), and the word "cancer", over the last year -- 8 hits.

In 2 political discussion threads that were raging just before my surgery, I did use my upcoming operation/diagnosis as my excuse for bowing out; I blogged about that difficult decision at the time. It was not an easy decision for me to make. I did not glibly throw out "Hey, I've got cancer!" just to weasle out of an argument, in fact I debated with myself whether or not anyone would perceive my "resignation" from those particular threads that way. This comment answers that question: even though my bowing out wasn't perceived as slimey and self-serving at the time, it is now.

OK -- I freely admit I used my cancer as a "conversation stopper" at one point in time, in two threads that were then active -- so what? My surgery was imminent. It was a real event in my life, and I continue to feel the repercussions to this day.

But what about everything else? In all of the other 6 threads, one is me saying I'll be gone for a few days during my post-RAI isolation. One is the thread that caused all the ruckus this week which inspired the quote above. In the others, my cancer is mentioned in passing in discussions of health-related topics, and was certainly not a conversation stopper. Oh, and in how many threads have I posted over that time, total? 150.

All in all, I'd say that the accusations that "[I] wear [my cancer] like a badge" and "you can't not know she has cancer" don't reflect the reality of my posting history in that forum.

Here in this blog, though -- the topic is inescapable at the moment. But this is my private space, and if I need to pin on that badge and become Sheriff of Cancer Land for a while, I don't see why I shouldn't.

Here's the thing:
I have cancer, and there is no way for me to ignore it right now, when I'm actively preparing for a scan. The LID is incredibly restrictive; I literally have to stop and think about every single thing I put in my mouth to make sure it's OK. Luckily it's only for a couple of weeks, but during that time there is no way not to think about it.

This week, I've got a 60-mile round-trip up to Phoenix for four days in a row. Yesterday and today I got injections, and my left arm is still aching from yesterday's. I'm sure my right arm will soon feel just as bad. This ache is about a 4 on the pain scale, meaning it takes some effort to ignore it -- but I try. There's no point in complaining about it to anyone else because it will go away eventually. It's just something I have to endure.

Having cancer doesn't make me better than anyone else -- it's obvious to me that, at least physically speaking, I'm worse. Having cancer hasn't bestowed any great wisdom or compassion on me. (At least I'm not alone, Louise feels the same way.) On the contrary, it makes me grumpy, and we all know that pissed off people rarely give good advice. One mitigating factor I'll offer up in the plus column is that I know I'm likely to be a bitch, so I try to stop and take a breath and make sure that I don't bite off anyone's head. Often those attempts are dismal failures, but at least I know the problem exists and I'm working on it.

I wish I didn't have cancer. I wish nobody ever had cancer. It's divine when I can forget that I do have it. There was a while there when entire days would go by when I didn't have to think about it, and I gave a passable impersonation of a healthy woman. With luck, I'll be back in a cycle like that very soon. There are many people in my life who know about my cancer, but there are quite a few who don't. If it doesn't affect the way we interact, there's no reason for them to know.

I treat my online interactions the same way. If it's appropriate, I'll mention it. I'm not going to pretend it doesn't exist, that would be stupid. I don't view everything that happens through the prism of my disease, but if something does come up (like feeling vulnerable as a parent), I don't see why I shouldn't mention it. If some people interpret my attitude as grandstanding, then they just don't have a clue.

I'm sorry if my mentioning I have cancer makes others feel uncomfortable, but I don't really see what their discomfort has to do with me. It's their problem.

Now you'll excuse me while I go polish my badge. You never know when I'll need it.

(*) Peter Steiner cartoon, The New Yorker, July 5, 1993.


Dreaming again said...

I'm pissed! sorry, I don't use language like that but there is no other word for it.

What? Are they jealous that they don't have anything so traumatic going on that they have to trivialize what is going on in your life? As if it is something you could control? As if it's nothing more serious than the common cold?

I don't care if you mention it in every conversation ... I know people who do! So what ... living with an illness is not a fun thing ... and to say that someone wears it as a badge is disgraceful ... not to you, but to the person who would lower themselves to say it that way.

Your badge is that you have cancer and are still alive! Your badge is that you have cancer and your raising 3 kids. Your badge is a badge of honor and wear it proudly, you are a human fighting an illness and you deserve dignity.

That person should be ashamed of themselves!

Sheik Yerbootie said...

And here I thought you finally found our errant Werewolf - Terror of USENET James Boe.


So, you have cancer?

Ahem - sorry, lousy attempt at a joke.

Look, there are assholes in the universe - they exist - you have to deal with them so just do it.

There are more enough people who support you and what you are going through to make up for the occaional idiot who obviously has nothing going on in their life.

Judy said...

Keep that badge polished! If you check out user jgibson2, you'll find that I did exactly that for over a year while undergoing cancer treatments. I even managed to prod a number of other people into having appropriate screening done.

Maybe you'll save a life. You never know. If someone else has a problem with it, that's THEIR problem.

Jeannette said...

No one deserves to criticize the way a person addresses cancer in their life, even if they have had cancer themselves. It is such a huge occurence in our lives that changes our lives forever. We all respond differently, we all have our fears, and we all have our way of coping. Frankly, it's a cheap shot.

I think it is important that we talk about cancer and let people see how we live with it and deal with it. First of all, it promotes awareness that may lead to early detection for others and, therefore, save lives. Secondly, it causes action. Bringing light to something that was held in darkness (which previously made it a virtual death sentence), has brought about research, funding for treatment, etc. And finally, it teaches others compassion (well most others except the idiot of mention) and what is truly important in life.

The bottom line is that talking about cancer, being open about your life with cancer, saves lives. That makes you a hero.

Brownie said...
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