When we talk about cancer with our loved ones, we can forget the different experiences shared and leave our issues unresolved. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop communicating.
As a cancer fighter, I considered myself as credible an authority as any… I knew pain, I knew suffering! And I knew what it felt like to be around both people who listened, providing a safe space for me to clear my head, as well as those quick to change the conversation or force their positive spins down my throat.
Recently, however, I was reminded that it's way easier to dish out advice than to actively practice what you preach.
Kori, my wife, was sharing her own difficulty in coping with “losing the past 4 years” of our lives.
It’s something she’s brought up a few times. And each time I heard this, I unintentionally shut her down. “Yeah but we’ve got to accept that loss and move forward. We can’t change the past,” was my usual reply.
Maybe that’s what I needed to tell myself as my own means of coping. When I heard “losing the past 4 years”, I pictured experiences that we lost like traveling, brunches with friends, nights out around the city and just assumed that’s what she was mourning too. Except that’s not at all what Kori meant.
She was tapping more into the cumulative effect of worrying and caring non-stop for her husband (up against one life or death situation after the next) while also maintaining a full-time career; what happens to one’s own identity when they’re in constant crisis mode, being pulled in all directions year after year; and why that’s not something one simply bounces back from overnight.
I never asked any follow up questions. And looking back, I realize I just couldn’t go there. It would have been too painful, too guilt-inducing to hear about her pain and suffering, which I reasoned was all attributed to my diagnosis. And every time I said “Well, tough babe, just accept that our path is different and move on already. You’ll feel better…” I was adding fuel to the fire, pushing her away and going against the same damn advice I had given to others.
Well, I realize what she was bringing up now, and the truth is, I still can’t entirely go there. But I can offer loving support and be more proactive checking in with her, the same way she does with me while we each try to figure out life with cancer.
I’ve also gained a new level of empathy for anyone I may have grown frustrated with for not handling my own vent sessions perfectly. Strong emotions have a way of blurring the lines, making everything that much harder, and I unfairly didn’t take that into consideration.
Consider this a lesson learned.