It was 4 a.m. and I couldn't sleep for the past three hours (a side effect from the chemo I was on). Lying in bed with my eyes closed but with my mind awake always leaves me frustrated so I surfing the net, catching up on news and watching mindless YouTube videos. After a while that usually does the trick and my eyes become heavy, but that night during my aimless surfing I stumbled upon Dating With Cancer from The Huffington Post's Generation Why and found myself suddenly awake.
Most cancer books or support groups are more like self-help books. They encourage and inspire, give you hope and equip you with inner strength to keep fighting. But many of the times they don't validate the pain, the fear, the disappointments and the loneliness of the fight. Often times we shy away from sharing our lows in detail in fear of being or feeling weak or even in fear of discouraging others.
Don't get me wrong, we all need a pep talk to move us along but sometimes we need to be in touch with reality as much as we need to dream and have hope.
Cancer patients or cancer survivors are always labeled as fighters or warriors, and though it is necessary to be that, people don't realize that it's also hard to live up to that title and that we have moments (many moments) of weakness. So when I read the stories in Generation Why the tears flowed in relief knowing that others were struggling, that many were in the same ring as I was, that the vomiting sucks, that the needles hurt every time (no you don't get used to it), that the decisions don't get easier, that the pain is real.
Generation Why has given us -- cancer patients and those affected by it, a platform that encourages and even celebrates vulnerable and honest sharing. And it is only successful because people are willing to share their stories without worrying about their pride, sugar coating their realities and having to always come across as a fighter. The stories capture both defeat and victories. It's given a voice to many who can't express these struggles or those who don't dare to acknowledge them. It's given us a chance to share something terrible together.
When a moment, an emotion or an experience is documented and hopefully shared, it is then and only then that people can come to understand, or at least try to. And hopefully with understanding compassion will follow and with compassion, empathy and perhaps even action of some sort.
If we want to beat cancer we must understand it. And not just the science or the medicine to treat it but the mental and emotional impact it has on cancer patients and their families. Because after all half the battle is a mental one.
I can't write for the family members but I can and will continue writing for the cancer patients -- documenting each jab with a needle, detailing the fears that come with scans even if they are just routine, and opening the door for others to understand what cancer does to a person. Because we're more than just fighters, we're people who have fears, disappointments, worries. We're people with feelings we hope others can come to understand.