I watched a few episodes of a series called “The Big C,” a phrase that makes me terribly uncomfortable. The story line follows a woman who will not tell her family that she has cancer; but it goes deeper than that, exploring her motivations and her desire to “take her life back.” In the first few episodes, every time she finds the will and the opportunity to share the news, her son or husband inadvertently and selfishly steals the moment. The show is well acted and the many subplots provide laughs.I know how the season ends, but I’m not writing a review. I only write to discuss the decision made by thousands every day, which is not to tell their family members or their friends that they have cancer.
Strictly by coincidence, on the morning that I would later watch the first program, I awoke with the worst case of hot flashes and nausea I have had to date. I have rarely had both simultaneously, and never had the symptoms been so terrible, even while occurring separately.
When I tried to get to the kitchen, where I keep my anti-nausea medicine, I was too dizzy to walk and had to fall backwards onto the bed.
While the stifling hot flashes ran like flames through my face and the back my neck, the phone rang, and it was my partner, Trish on the other end. I accidentally dropped the receiver, picked it up and put the speaker on, and told her how my morning had begun.
She knew perfectly how to reply. Not with long questions or suggestions, but calmly, in a soothing voice as if talking to a child, which at that moment I was—at some time or other, anyone with cancer will feel like a child. But my inner self held on as I tried to control the nausea and hot flashes. Trish’s voice came through the speaker phone. “I know, honey. I’m sorry.”She understood what I was going through. She knew because I had told her, nine months ago now. I don’t know how she would have understood these problems if I had not told her, or if I had hidden my diagnosis from her.
I did not know why my father went to the doctor so much, or why he kept getting thinner and thinner. I did not know why he spent so many weeks, even months, in the hospital. He would not let me visit him. I didn’t know why. When my mother said that he was receiving cobalt treatments, I did not know what that meant. I was seventeen years old, and never knew that my father had cancer—not until the telephone rang, and I heard my mother’s scream. She had not told me. She had not told my ten year-old sister, either. It was I who had to slowly climb the stairs and tell her that the spark of her life, her valiant knight, her prince, had died of cancer. She cried and said she never knew that he was so sick. Because no one had told her.
I tell everyone about my cancer, even the woman who scoops my gelato at Ganauche, to the manager at King’s, because I consider them friends. Each time I come in, they show their concern and ask how I am. I receive prayer cards from aging Irish Catholic aunts. I have also suggested that Trish tell the people that work with her, and to go to them when she is afraid. Her co-workers, most of whom I’ve never met, recently made a “Generous Contribution” to the Prostate Cancer Society in my name.Even my gracious readers at Open Salon have leant their support. All this began by telling one person. Telling one person not only made it easier on my family, it created an entire network. Many hearts and souls, including mine, have been touched. So if you have such an enormous problem as cancer, tell someone. Get that network rolling, and let it put a smile on your face—you deserve it.
And no letters folks. I know how that TV series ends!