The Blame Game Part 3

Far from becoming a feisty post-cancer patient, I’ve shrunk. I’ve become more careful about what I say, who I say it to and how I’m perceived.  The girl I used to be, who talked about her relationships on TV, wrote and performed true, often embarrassing, stories on stage, disappeared.

One of the reasons for this shrinkage is having to deal with blame-inducing comments.

Over the phone a friend declared , “Our church doesn’t believe in genetic cancers just ways of thinking that get passed down through generations”.

With a well-meaning head cock to the side another cooed “Well, you didn’t like your job”

A yogi declared “Emotional scars of the past turn into sickness and cancer, I’m weeding mine out to stop me from getting ill”

A colleague announced “Must have happened for a reason”

“You are given what you can handle,” from a religious person.

“Stress causes cancer” such a commonly held belief it is almost just a given

Over dinner with friends, “My friend survived cancer and they never complained”.

Upon hearing of my cancer a woman at work had to “clean” her energies.

“You just have to be positive” said all the time, by lots of people.

“Be positive and everything will be ok”.

“It’s all about being positive”.

I used to be a social butterfly.  I could be found at an event happily flitting around meeting new people or having 7 hour long conversation with a friend.  After cancer I withdrew. I didn’t have the strength to deal with the insidious judging, it was too much to navigate when to just let it go and when to speak up. When someone meant something by it and when they didn’t.  When to say something, not for myself, but for the next person who has cancer.

Once I’ve been ‘positived’ in conversation it is very hard to be anything but smiles and gratefulness to be alive.  I listen, in detail, to their expression of complicated feelings about break ups, work and finances.  I’m only allowed the space to be a happy slice of a person. If I speak up, I risk being seen as ‘negative’ and in my situation, that means I deserve to die.

I’ve become selective in giving out information. Ordinary things like saying ‘I slept in late’ can be scrutinized.  Why wasn’t I up at dawn seizing the day like a good cancer survivor living each day as if it’s her last?  If I was sleeping a lot it may also my imply I’m lazy, they all know from the ads on TV you have to be a good ‘fighter’. I now keep a lot of information to myself.

Writing about mum and I having a complicated relationship is risky.  I’m aware some people will read about it, nod to themselves and think, ‘there’s the reason they both got cancer.’

Exposing I was scared and shaking in part 1 means that if I get cancer again, I’ve given the ammunition to some people to say, well there’s proof she wasn’t positive enough. I know others reading about the nurse will have agreed whole-heartedly with her.

To some degree I understand the magical thinking that goes with these responses.  Before I was diagnosed, cancer was something that happened to other people.  Sick people.  In the irrational part of my brain I imagined they were somehow primed for being sick, as if, like aging, they knew it was coming and/ or they were strong enough to deal with it. I drove by hospitals without a second thought to what was going on inside.  On the night of my diagnosis I threw a drinks and positivity party.  I knew very little about cancer but I knew I needed to be positive.

It makes sense to think a person with cancer didn’t eat right, think right, live their life right because that helps create an illusion of safety.  It is a way of creating separation from someone with cancer then it is easier sympathize, without challenging the healthy person’s ideas about mortality.  It also calms their fears to know if they do get cancer, they are armed with the comfort of telling themselves they would change their diet, ‘fight’ and make it through.

Whether it be religion, media, or complementary medicine propagating the belief that cancer is within our control, the implication is that if you get it, you did something wrong.  If you get cancer and it starts to take your life you are not fighting hard enough.  The saddest part of this is that some people with cancer grew up with the same influences.

This turns blame into shame.

It is hard enough to be sick without having to feel ashamed of it.

Despite it being illogical, I do feel guilt.   I blame myself for being diagnosed first and bring cancer in to our lives.  I’m terrified it was my fault my mum died.  I watched Meet Joe Black ( a film where a man makes a deal with death to extend his life) and had a full break-down thinking that maybe mum had traded her life for mine.  In the moment it completely explained why she was so angry towards me towards the end.  I feel guilt for getting sick and survivors guilt for still being here.

I have my own internal fleet of positivity thought-police.

An oppressive regime does not just work on the outside, it sets up shop in our heads and squeezes us from the inside too.

Lets change this.

When someone dies of cancer, they did not lose, they did not succumb, they did not give in.  They died from a brutal disease shutting down their vital organs.

Isn’t it time we stopped the blame game?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About tatumderoeck1111

Welcome to my new blog. When I found out I had breast cancer I threw a 'Drinks and Positivity' party. I wanted to keep the drinking (although my drink of choice in the future might be a healthy smoothie) and Positivity going, so I started this blog to keep everyone in the loop.
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4 Responses to The Blame Game Part 3

  1. Joanne Sajdak says:

    Hi Tatum,

    Loved your blog. I have seen that same kind of insidious blaming for many years. It seems to have started with the New Age Movement in the 60s.

    I had 3 friends die of lung cancer. They got plenty of the same thing. No one seems to be saying the people dying of Ebola weren’t positive enough. I guess they believe in contagion but not DNA. There is a lot of bullshit beliefs among people who work with energy or think they do. Some yogis are more out of touch with there bodies, literally dissociated, than the average truck driver.

    About your mom, of course you want an explanation for her anger towards you. But even if she wanted to make a deal, trading her life for yours, I don’t think god or the universe is making those kinds of deals or almost no toddlers would die of cancer. I used to work at City of Hope, a National Cancer Institute and saw 6 months old and one year olds die of cancer. Were they not positive enough? I also knew a truly beautiful soul, an adolescent who was cheerful & good humored though years of awful treatment , who in the last month of his life was bitterly angry. The more I did for him the angrier he was with me. I couldn’t do anything right. If I brought him 2 rolls, he was angry because he’d only ask for one. When I talked to the oncologist, he said it was a come reaction. With my own mother I see that when she is afraid & feels helpless she gets mean. Presumably to feel strong. It’s a sad defense mechanism. I once heard a Catholic priest preach that children who are developmentally delayed are because their parents committed sin. At 15 that was the final straw for me with the Catholic Church- old evil & cruel superstition.

    Joanne

    >

  2. Joanne Sajdak says:

    Hi Tatum,

    Just heard about a 4 year old w cancer. In my earlier email the oncologist said that that kind of anger was common. I don’t know if it tended to focus on one person or everyone.

    I find the older I get the more selective I am about who I share personal information with, as much as possible. Unfortunately a regular feature of life is the cruel & thoughtless comments of social acquainteces.

    Joanne

    >

  3. Tatum, everything you wrote, I have felt. Not to the degree that I have cancer, but to everything else. I believe I am one of the most positive people I know, and yet I often detest all that “there’s a reason, think positive, crap” that people say out loud, thinking they are being helpful.

    SHIT happens… and often without any logical circumstances….only science has some small window into all the illnesses in our world. People try to convince themselves there’s a reason. I don’t believe there is an all mighty reason…SHIT happens.

    A dear friend of mine got MS when she turned 30 (about 24 yrs ago). She expressed similar feelings, like it was HER fault that she got sick!

    It’s peoples way of trying to convince THEMSELVES they have “control” over their lives…and it’s stupid people who say it to those who are sick. (Sorry, some of the stupid do mean well…but, they need to turn it around: how would THEY feel if someone essentially told them that their illness was their own fault?) I actually do have compassion for people who don’t understand what they are saying and say it anyway. I just don’t listen to them.

    My mother died of cancer when I was 23…and at that time in my life, I DID think, “If she had only expressed herself more, if only she didn’t believe that deaths happened in threes and my two other Aunts had just died within the last 6 months, if only she wasn’t so angry…etc). Then life happened and I smartened up.

    Another one of my dear friends had breast cancer…and she was the first person that pointed out to me how insulting the PINK ribbon was to her. And I read all of her blogs and got it. It’s the commercialization of peoples lives.

    Last night there was a show on TV called “Stand Up to Cancer” (it was a televised fundraiser).
    I tried to watch it. I couldn’t. I hoped that they raised lots of money of course. But even the title: Stand Up to Cancer, made me shudder. It just felt so trivialized, so simple: Stand Up! The shit people come up with! And I understand that in order to get the average person to pay attention to something other than sports and mindless television, you have to suggest that they throw a bucket of ice water over themselves.

    I love your writing Tatum…keep doing it. I especially love when you talk about your Mum…I can hear your voice each and every time.

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