"[W]e need never be ashamed of our tears ..." - Charles Dickens
One of the things I've come to accept about myself is that I cry easily.
What hasn’t come easily is crying in front of other people.
During the diagnostic and treatment phases of cancer, I usually clamped down my tears. As a mother, I felt I had to be strong for my children. As a wife, I saw my husband's pain and, feeling guilty for causing it, didn't want to cause more. As a daughter, sister and friend, I didn't want to worry anyone and tried to keep things positive.
Although I felt no such obligations to my doctors, I hid tears from them too. When my breast surgeon told me I needed a mastectomy, I didn’t let myself lose it until I made it out of her office and onto the elevator. When my plastic surgeon needed before photographs, requiring me to stand there practically naked while a nurse took pictures, I bit my lip to keep from crying. Time after time during testing, I'd say as little as possible to the technician, struggling to just get through it without making a scene.
Tears reveal truth and, all too often, I wasn’t able to go there. Instead, I’d quietly walk away and find somewhere safe to cry in private. Why did I hide? As much as I wanted to be strong, it wasn’t about that entirely. Mostly, I think I was overwhelmed with emotions and unable to explain them. How could I make others understand all the emotions I was feeling when I couldn’t fully understand them myself?
I cried a lot during the six and a half months from my 'suspicious' mammogram to my mastectomy, but I did my best to cover my tracks. Two days after my mastectomy, that all ended. That morning, I woke up in a hospital bed with an amputated breast, hip-to-hip incision, bandages, catheter and drains.
With the comforting fog of surgical drugs finally out of my system, there was only the cold, hard reality and I gave in to a breakdown. Nurses came from everywhere to comfort me and I let them. I was no longer hiding. Instead, I outed myself completely as someone who had hit the wall and needed whatever help I could get to put myself back together.
Talk about a watershed moment.
There was no hiding the depth of my emotions anymore and my nurse navigator encouraged me to start therapy. I met a therapist once a week for a year and I cried through at least 95 percent of our time together. In fact, when I asked her why she thought I was making progress when all I did was talk and cry, her answer surprised me.
It seems that committing to toughing it out to work through the pain and tears is what therapy is all about.
Since then, I’m better at embracing vulnerability and the tears it evokes. I now work as a patient educator with the Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project. Meeting with young doctors, medical students and student nurses, I tell my story and answer questions about living with cancer as a whole person.
Now when I tear up, which happens every time I talk about cancer and my husband and children, I make no effort whatsoever to hide it.
Tears are an honest reaction to cancer. Over the years, I’ve learned that hiding them only made my struggle harder and denied others the chance to recognize my suffering and be supportive.
Do you hide your tears from family, friends and medical professionals? If not, was it hard to open up and show vulnerability? Let’s talk about it in the discussion group.
I'm typically am a very emotional person. I react instantly to sadness by crying. It's something I've done all my life. And I had my share of sadness and more over the years. I hadn't recovered from a painful divorce 6 years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer so now I have even more to reason to burst into tears. I do feel a release when I cry. I feel better after. I don't feel the need to avoid crying when talking to friends or healthcare providers regarding my condition. Crying and talking are the only ways I know in coping with my emotional pain.
It's been 3 years since my breast CA diagnosis. Because I'm single, (i.e. self supporting), after the mastectomy I worked through chemo & radiation treatment as much as possible. Many days I cried in the restroom or fled to my car for a crying jag. When my PCP gave me the news I cried even though it wasn't the 1st time hearing it (unfortunately, a nurse called to set up my appts w/my breast CA team while I was driving to the PCP office for the biopsy results, ooops). I never cried so much in my entire life! When I finally finished treatment I cried uncontrollably for weeks & finally started seeing an oncology psychiatrist for therapy & antidepressants. I'm fine now, not on antidepressants, but still cry easily when under stress, waiting for test results, etc. Good article, thanks.
I have always been a crier. Before cancer, I cried at commercials and movies. My husband and daughter used to tease me all of the time about it. When I was diagnosed with Stage 4 NHL in 2010, I almost lost my mind. The doctors come at you with both barrels trying to heal you and my mind just couldn't handle it. Upon losing my health, I lost who I was. I lost my job then I had to go on disability and medicare. Money became an issue in my marriage for the very first time. I cried numerous times in front of my doctors especially in the beginning. I have had some huge alone crying sessions too when I get to the point where I have had enough. I still do. I wish our family could afford a therapist because I think my husband, daughter, and I could use it. Sometimes I feel so alone in my misery and isolated from everyone because of my transplant. I try not to hold it back in front of people. I want them to know this has not been an easy road nor will it ever be easy for the rest of my life. What a wonderful article!! It covers a great topic. Thanks for writing about it.
I'm so glad my article resonated with you, THJ. You and your family have been through a lot, and you have every reason to cry it out. If you're interested, look into CancerCare.org. They offer counseling services and support groups to patients and family members over the phone, online and in person. They can also help you find other resources. Keep reaching out, THJ, and I wish you and your family all the best.
NHL is my cancer. In chemo and have completed four of the treatment weeks...two more treatment weeks within 8 more total weeks to go. Am having low blood pressure problems and that is bothering me more mentally than the awful chemo side effects. Sometimes they/I can't get a reading. I am more afraid of my heart giving out than beating the cancer.I cry in private and husband found me crying today and told me I was not taking this well...referring to being a weak person. Told me others have it worse (I know that.) Got that off my chest. Didn't want to talk to family about it as they would be very disappointed in my husband's lack of compassion with that statement. He is the only person who has made a statement about my being weak.I do a blog to family and friends after each treatment and get all kinds of support. My husband drives me places and does dishes and laundry so I get physical support from him but not much emotional support. He doesn't like me talking about symptoms and how I feel. So, I try to not do that much with him.
I feel for you VickiTX. Perhaps your husband isn't able to deal with your emotions because your suffering is too painful for him. My husband was also immensely supportive, but also had a hard time seeing me in emotional pain. Of course, there is no excuse for calling you weak, which you certainly are not! I got a lot of help with this issue from my therapist and learned how to work through this with my husband. Perhaps you could speak to someone at your cancer center for guidance. Take care and make sure to get the emotional support you need and deserve.