A few days ago in a comment, a reader made an approving reference to a friend who refused to take part in groups of old people who indulge in “organ recitals” - that supposedly clever but disparaging phrase for discussion of medical problems.
(It is always applied to elders. Young people who talk about their health are never accused of being boring but we'll save discussion of that kind of ageism for another day.)
Certainly we have all known people who carry on at mind-numbing length or go through the details of their surgery at inappropriate moments – Thanksgiving dinner comes to mind. But there is another side to this issue.
”Thanks for your crabby post. At 82 I still have not heard what my friends had been going through when struck by a serious illness. There is such reluctance and fear to communicate and share these feelings. Your posts make it easier to talk about these changes.”
Rina is right. As much as some organ recitals can be excessive, plenty of other people go too far in their silence about serious medical issues. It helped me a lot, eased my mind to a degree, especially when I was first diagnosed, that people I know – in “real life” and on this blog – passed on what they had experienced during cancer treatment.
Even if it would not closely match my experience, it helped me understand how difficult or easy my treatment might be and, most important, that those people had got through it - a real question when facing so much that is frightening and new.
Here is another thing that happened – to me, anyway – after the surgery and during recovery from it; even as I desperately wanted to not become a “professional patient” and wanted to hang on to my pre-diagnosis life, cancer is insidious in at least one additional way beyond the physical attack on the body:
Over time, and not all that long a period, it creeps into every cell of your brain. Trying to read a newspaper or a book? The mind strays to cancer. Watching a movie on TV? Next thing you know you're wondering if the chemo will actually work, and you've lost the thread of the film story.
Even washing dishes or making the bed, you suddenly worry that you forgot to take your pre-meal pill at lunch.
But perhaps the worst? Those ubiquitous commercials for various cancer treatment centers scattered in cities around the U.S. that always imply that they can cure cancer.
They enrage me. As much as I suspect a generally positive attitude is helpful in treating cancer, I resent being lied to as though I'm incompetent. And although, if you listen carefully to every word, they don't promise a cure, few of us pay that kind of close attention and it sounds like that's what they are saying.
Either way, there you go down the cancer rabbit hole again.
One thing I've noticed is that too often when I've told people about my diagnosis, they don't know what to say – they are stunned - understandable - and I think part of that is our general reluctance to discuss such things at all.
So I'm with Rina. I think discussing details of our serious diseases and conditions (appropriately, for sure) is a big help in reducing fear in everyone involved – friends and family as well as patients. Talking about these dramatic changes, when they hit us, with loved ones goes a long way to finding a way to live with them.
I am reminded of the large number of doctors and nurses I have been dealing with through these months. They answer every question with the truth, even the hard truths, with compassion, understanding and a good deal of humor. The rest of us should be doing that too.