Earlier this year, I was considering going to a cancer support group. I thought that being in a group with people who are oncology patients might help me learn how to be with this reality. I also considered a caregiver support group for people who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s dementia, because the unique pain of this type of living loss is like no other. What I did not consider and have not considered for a few years is finding an individual therapist.
Don’t Mess with Success
I have thought about being in therapy. But mostly from the perspective of why I am not pursuing it; while also feeling a little self conscious and perhaps hypocritical about not wanting to be in therapy or even a support group. Individual therapy has been on the forefront of my mind lately because I know it is something that is expected of a therapist. In fact, my sister asked me if I thought about going to therapy. I said a lot of words in response; but the words that stuck out to me the most were “I don’t want to mess with success.” In other words, I feel like I am doing well – not perfect…but good. What I didn’t say, but also believe, is that therapy could mess that up. It’s like I say in my own informed consent…”Sometimes therapy can make you feel worse before you feel better…therapy does not offer any guarantees of solving problems or challenges.” The one thing that would truly move me from good to great, would be if the people who make the medication to treat the type cancer I have find an actual cure. In the meantime, I engage in a daily process of accepting what “is.”
Check Your Pity
I find it frustrating to engage with others about my experiences. I am not seeking to be understood. What I want is to be respected. I highly dislike pitying statements, looks and comments…I don’t like it when people with whom I limited regular interaction ask me how I am doing. Pausing my day to update them on how I am doing is actually about assuaging them and is only loosely connected to me. That conversation is a fleeting moment in their day and it pales in comparison to the enormity of the topic in my life.
I Value Support in the Ways I Choose to Receive it
Perhaps a therapist could help me deal with people and how they relate to what is going on with me. The truth is, I know what to do about how other people feel about what’s happening with me. The answer to that shifts based on who it is and on how I am doing and what I happen to need in that moment. Sometimes, I need and value support. Other times, I need and value being left alone. I don’t think I should have to spend my time explaining to anyone how I have found ways that work for me. On a case-by-case basis and as needed…I teach people how to treat me.
As a person living with a medical condition that I will likely live with for the rest of my life (please don’t dispute my statements of fact), I have made a conscious decision to spend my time and life as much as possible doing the things that I want to do and not doing the things I don’t want to do. My mindset is to live in the present; set healthy boundaries….live my life. I don’t want to spend time feeling sad or angry about something that I can’t change. I don’t want to explain it to a caring person/therapist. I am very fortunate to have many caring people in my life. I have never once asked the question “why me?” I only ask myself the question “What do I want to spend my time doing and being?” These are the same questions I have always asked myself. The difference now is that I feel even more emboldened to stand my ground.
Living with What is True
For now, I have also decided not to attend a cancer support group in particular. I am still open to a caregiver support group. (Please don’t send me any options, I don’t need assistance with that.) However, I am not interested in going to a cancer support group. I don’t want to expose or over expose myself to the harsh realities of what having cancer, living with it, battling it and dying from it looks like and feels like. I like to reduce my anxiety and keep it at a minimum as much as possible. I don’t want to increase my chances of being afraid of the future. I would much rather live in the present. I don’t want to hasten my relationship to grief by making friends with people who are, yes, living…but are more consciously/actively in the process of dying. There are survivors of cancer of all types and that is no doubt inspiring and helpful. When there is a survivor of my particular type of lung cancer…I’ll consider going to that support group. I am thankfully responsive to treatment so that extends my life, who knows for many years to come. However according to my oncologist and current treatment there is no “remission,” for this type of cancer.
I decided to write about this because I think that we as a community spend a lot of time, rightfully so, trying to destigmatize therapy. It is true that some people don’t want to go to therapy because of what they think it will mean about them or signal about them to others. My rationale for not wanting it is slightly different; I know that going to therapy can be good. I also know that going to therapy is far from a guarantee of a desired outcome. However, it helps to have a desired outcome and I don’t have one.
I choose not to focus my energy on what others think I should do: how I should eat, what my mindset should be, where I should travel, who I should spend my time with, which type of doctors to see, and ideas about whether or not I should be in psychotherapy. The gift of a life-threatening illness is that it hastens the urgency of your relationship to yourself and brings clarity to your relationships with others. What others want for me and what I want for me may not be in alignment and vice versa…what I want for others and what they want for themselves may not be the same. I respect people’s right to be on their path and I am okay with the fact that not everyone will accept and honor mine.
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