Talking About Cancer

I have very mixed feelings about discussing my breast cancer in public, but I’m going to. For a number of reasons.

I’ve had the initial “By the way, I have cancer” moment with a number of people already. It’s a sure-fire conversation stopper. <wry smile> Sorry, I don’t mean it to be, but in some contexts, with people who genuinely care, it’s hard for me to answer the usual cheerful: “How are you?” – except straightforwardly.

But it is tiring to deliver the same information over and over, especially information that is difficult enough for me to get my own head around. At each step of this so far, and probably all the steps to come, there is a part of me resisting, screaming inside my own head: “No, no, this can’t be happening!”

You won’t hear me screaming, and you probably won’t see me crying. Almost no one will.

My attitude to all crisis situations, no matter who they’re happening to, is to keep my head and deal with what’s before me. I figure, no matter how bad things are, someone needs to be the grownup and deal with the practicalities. Call me Kipling, if you like.

In practice, this has meant throughout my life that I have rarely (if ever) had the luxury of just going to pieces and letting someone else pick them up. I keep on keeping on. I don’t see that I have any choice. My weapons of self-defense are intellectual curiosity about everything (even the nasty stuff that happens to me), and a dark, at times completely “inappropriate”, sense of humor.

So my tone in discussing my cancer may seem strange, detached, clinical, or even cold. Believe me, there’s plenty of molten rage, deep grief, and stark terror underneath. But it doesn’t help me to express those all the time.

What does help is writing, both the discipline of getting my thoughts and facts in order, and the escape valve of telling my story on my own terms. Part of my reason for doing this will be therapeutic.

NB: No one, no matter how close to me, should feel obliged to read any of this if it’s hard for you. You, too, have the right to deal with any crisis in your life (including me) in your own way. Just remember: kvetch outward.

It may even be something of a public service for me to write about this. Cancer is a hugely frightening topic for everyone, and some folks are still reticent to talk or ask about it. A few people in my life (that I know of so far) have been through some version of what I’m going through now, and it’s helpful for me to know that they are there (and, frankly, to know that they’re still alive and coping well). Any frightening experience is a bit easier when you know more about what to expect.

Telling my story may, therefore, help others who may someday have to go through something like this – as, statistically, many of you will: “About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.” – breastcancer.org

So…I write.


my breast cancer story (thus far)

4 thoughts on “Talking About Cancer

  1. Raymond M. Kristiansen

    Having lost a grandfather and a father to cancer, I know that this is truly an epidemic disease and it strikes randomly. You may be a smoker, or not at all, and it still happens.

    I am glad that you are writing this, for yourself above all. We haven’t pinged much since VlogEurope in Milan (which I still remember fondly), but I have always enjoyed reading your writings on this site and elsewhere. I wish you a good recovery, and I hope that you will have as good a process as possible. Happy New Year!

  2. Bart Muijzer

    Deirdre: keep the Faith! And keep writing… dunno if it does any good but I’ll cross fingers for you.

Leave a Reply