Tears in Her Eyes Puzzled Me: Coping With Other People's Reactions


Breast cancer survivor facing her double mastectomy struggles with tears and hugs.

Sometimes dealing with others' caring thoughts is difficult for cancer survivors — at least it sometimes is for me. There are four moments I want to share:

1.We were sitting with our friends having a drink. My upcoming double mastectomy came up and all of a sudden, I saw the tears in her eyes.

I think I asked her why and I think she said she was thinking about what I had been through and would be going through. I was so shocked I am not even sure how the conversation actually went. I found myself assuring her that all would be well and trying to brush it off.

2. A storeowner asked me what books I had written. When I mentioned the cancer coping book, she felt the need to come around the counter and give me a huge hug for being a survivor. Again, I felt the need to minimize all of it and I changed the topic.

3. One woman's reaction to my upcoming double mastectomy was, "Oh, I could never do that." What am I supposed to do with that?

4. Lastly, I found myself frustrated when a family member recently asked what our weekend plans would be Really? Two days after my mastectomy surgery, I will be coming home from the hospital to recover. What is going on?

Ultimately, I think cancer survivors walk a social interaction tightrope. We find ourselves feeling upset and betrayed when loved ones and friends make thoughtless or insensitive or just plain ignorant comments. At the same time, we are not happy with pity or tears. This conundrum kind of makes me feel sorry for the people in our lives who are just trying to interact with us. What creates this almost no-win situation?

We do not want pity and we do not want to be ignored. We perhaps want acknowledgement of our experience, but we don't want it to ransom every conversation. We definitely do not want to be told we are somehow doing our treatment decisions wrong. Sometimes people with good intentions say some extremely hurtful things out of ignorance.

I don't even know what I always want when it comes to social interaction and my cancer or upcoming surgery. Maybe one moment I want to discuss it, and in another instance I don't. Read my constantly changing mind, would you? I know that is not fair. I am grateful to have people in my life who are tolerating my mercurial state.

It is just a difficult situation. My husband was loving and reassuring before I stepped into the shower this morning to cry quiet tears as I contemplate the loss of my breasts. I am fortunate to have some alone time for journaling and crying today. It is okay. Sadness and loss are part of life and I will get through it. The waiting is the hard part now. I go back to the many coping skills that cancer survivorship has already taught me.

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