But you’re so young and healthy

“But you’re so young and healthy,” he said to me, stunned, after I removed my cap and quietly shared my cancer diagnosis.

And it struck me to the core.  Because I’m not, clearly, and I never will be again.  I will always have cancer, or have had cancer, or be on the lookout for the cancer to return.

It’s not his fault.  He didn’t mean to hurt me with the words.  He was simply stunned, and spoke before he thought.  He may have even said them if he paused and thought, actually, since they don’t seem like words you would regret.  They seem innocuous.  Quiet.  A normal reaction.

But some days, they feel like a rebuke.

Tonight I am haunted by those words.  I have heard those words so many times over the last 4 1/2 months and I do not want to hear them again.  I have heard those words from friends.  From colleagues.  From medical professionals.  From intake nurses and from oncologists.  They don’t make much sense anymore, these words, these words that try to be reassuring but come out as a rebuke.  How could you have cancer?  How could this have happened to someone so young and healthy?

And yet, here I sit, two days after my (ninth? tenth?) chemotherapy treatment, waiting for a sleeping pill (of all things) to take effect and counter the toxins in my body keeping me awake.  Waiting for the tylenol to mute the bone pain coursing through my legs and arms.  Waiting for the nausea to dissipate so I can lie down more comfortably, farther away from my little white bucket.  Waiting for the random nosebleeds that spring out of nowhere now to cease.  My first ever nosebleed was last week, but now I have them several times a day because the Taxol, not content to take my hair and eyebrows, has stripped my body of its mucus membranes as well, making it more difficult to taste, breathe, and digest. 

I am waiting for sleep. 

But I am also waiting for the tumor to shrink sufficiently to be declared “operable” so that the surgeon can take my breasts and reduce the tumor load on my body.  Waiting to head to radiation, the daily treatments that will burn the cancer cells left behind by chemotherapy and surgery.  Waiting for the adjuvant chemotherapy to begin, if necessary, to attack whatever remains.  Waiting to see if all this will work, if it will give me more years with my little children.  Waiting to regain my strength and energy, and the person that I once was.  But the words echo in my mind nonetheless, as I wait:

“But you’re so young and healthy.”

Apparently not.

Edited in response to comments:  Words you all say will never hurt me.  I know you are here to support, and I treasure every word you leave in return.  I should have been more clear.  It’s just funny, somehow, how simple, innocous words sound different somehow through this lens of cancer, and I need to work through that a bit again.  But please, please stay.  Please leave your words.  Each comment cheers me and helps me feel that, in this fight, I am not alone.


39 Responses to But you’re so young and healthy

  1. BetteJo says:

    Oh, I’m so sorry. Sorry people don’t always say the right things (including me), sorry you have to have the pain and the meds and all of it.
    I don’t always comment simply because I don’t want to say the wrong thing, and never having been in your place – I may have no idea before it slips out of my mouth or off my fingers and onto the keys.
    I’m sure the last thing you need right now is to deal with other people’s reactions to what you are dealing with on a daily basis.
    I can only think of you and pray for you, on a daily basis. And – hope tomorrow will be a better day and rest comes soon.

  2. driftwood says:

    I know that there’s nothing I can write that will make a difference to how you are feeling,and I hate the thought that it might make you feel worse.
    but maybe just the thought that someone is thinking of you will help to get through this, one step at a time.

  3. whymommy says:

    Words you all say will never hurt me. I know you are here to support, and I treasure every word you leave in return. I should have been more clear. It’s just funny, somehow, how simple, innocous words sound different somehow through this lens of cancer. But please, please stay. Please leave your words. Each cheers me and helps me feel that, in this fight, I am not alone.

  4. maggie says:

    I think of you often and wish all the best for you. Cancer sucks. You rock.

  5. Jenster says:

    Your perspective of everything has changed so drastically – even your pespective of words.

    I’m so sorry you’re having to go through all of this. You are such an encouragement and inspiration to so many, but I wish you weren’t. At least not in this area.

  6. cheryl says:

    You are not alone, Whymommy. I support you so much in your fight against this terrible disease. I live somewhat far away in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and I have been following you for several weeks now. You have touched my heart so much. You need to be strong, and know that thousands of people, many strangers like myself, are so rooting for you every day. You WILL beat this terrible monster. Believe that!!

  7. Again, you have changed my perspective on things–it is so very true that a seemingly innocent word can have a lot of meaning for soneone depending on their context. I am praying you feel better this week than you did last, and also, very cool that Widget is picking up letters! My Sunshine is too…this is going to be fun I think. And I like the new look–for a minute I thought I was in the wrong place, until I saw that pic of you and Little Bear. Anyway, hugs and prayers are always coming your way.

  8. carosgram says:

    I remember when my friend Bob was diagnosed with cancer. He just couldn’t believe it and it was so hard for all of us to comprehend as well. He wondered if it was in retaliation to things he had done in his past, if it was a reaction to the stress he had just been through in his last job, if he would be able to tolerate the suggested treatment regimen, if life would ever be sweet again. Losing his hair was especially difficult as it was one of his sources of pride. Scared and vulnerable he found it hard to deal with even the most supportive and sympathetic of comments and yet he needed to know that we were there and cared. Today, in remission, he tells all of us what it meant to have us there. We are there for you also, Whymommy. And you don’t need to justify how you are feeling. We are all just doing our best.

  9. K says:

    Maybe the “young and healthy” part will be one of the many, many things that helps you beat this awful disease?

    But nosebleeds? Man, that’s really not fair. (relatively speaking…truly, NONE of this is “fair”…but that’s a completely different discussion.)

    My thoughts are with you and I hope that along with taking your hair, eyebrows and nasal membranes, that the drugs are also doing their job.

    And I hope you got some sleep….

  10. Carol Anne says:

    Of all of your posts, this one brought tears to my eyes. I hate that you (or anyone has to go through this) and I hope with all my heart that it will give your more time with your boys. As a mom of 3 young boys, you fight especially touches me.

  11. Dawn says:

    never alone. and you are probably sick of the word brave too – but to open up this experience and ask for support – my God that’s brave in my book – something I suck at.

  12. kgirl says:

    Not alone. And the new site looks awesome.

  13. Karen Lynch says:

    I’m so glad Technorati led me to your site. I’m a two time survivor and mother of three munchkins — now 8, 6 and 3. I’ve been asked ‘Why Mommy’ more times than I’d like to recap.

    God bless you and me and all us mommies with cancer!

  14. (HUGS)

    The shock we all feel when someone—self, other, friend, relative—we think of that way *isn’t* is like a big rebuke to us all. It’s like a bad one way trip to Unfair and Just Wrong. It stinks. Period.

    My heart aches; you so beautifully describe the ugliest of things: cancer and its effect.

    Here’s to shrinking tumors…and all the rest, too.

    Hey I’ve meant to tell you about Kombucha tea. Have I? The sort I get is designed to help with the chemo effects. I really believe in it. Anyway, wanted to mention it to you in case you might like to check into it.

    Using My Words

  15. Bon says:

    oh, my friend.

    there is something so incredibly exposed and vulnerable about being a person who – in whatever way – doesn’t meet other people’s usual, comfortable assumptions about what life should be at your age and stage.

    and people never know what to say to you, when you are that person.

    and because you – somewhere deep inside – probably have some of those same, shocked, discombobulated feelings yourself, it can be particularly hurtful or wounding to realize that not only do you have to deal with those feelings for YOU, but you’re going to have to be a conduit through which other people deal with them, and sometimes their naivete or unconsidered statements can – however unintentional – really suck.

    i found during my own year or so of profound grief, when i was that person for the people around me, there was really nothing that people could say sometimes that was “right.” i wanted their love and support. but i was angry too, and sad, and frightened, and sometimes i didn’t want to have to deal with their fear, their ideas, their anything.

    the lens of cancer changes the way you will see and hear commentary on you and your life for a long time. it’s okay to be furious with people’s words, and want words, at the same time.

    love and rest to you.

  16. Bon says:

    ps. love the new look.

  17. Gidge says:

    I know I’ve been guilty of thoughtless comments like that……..and in my mind I’m questioning the UNIVERSE – sort of giving it a big WTF – because looking at someone “so young and healthy” just seems so out of kilter when you learn that they indeed are NOT.

    I guess it feels out of kilter too…….

    We mean no harm, I think we just don’t know what we’re saying sometimes.

  18. Phoenix says:

    Ouch, too bad whoever he was didn’t think about those words. Sorry it made you feel bad….or well worse than you already do.

    Unfortunetly cancer doesn’t care how young or old you are. People think they are saying nice things, but I’m sure some of it isn’t and other things, I’m sure get tiring to hear all the time.

    Anyway, I hope you get some rest.

  19. deb says:

    In honor of your scientific background I thought I’d cheer you up with a bad pun.

    A neutron goes into a bar and asks the bartender, “How much for a beer?” The bartender replies, “For you, no charge.”

    It’s bad, I know. But I hope you smiled anyway:)

  20. Meleah says:

    I just want you to know I think of you daily. I send you all the strength and positive energy I can. Hang in there — you are stronger than this I know you are.

  21. tori says:

    I absolutely get this. I am the most healthy unhealthy person my doctors have ever met. It is ridiculous because I look “just fine” but have so many things going on it is insane! I think people say things like that because they are shocked that someone who looks like they are as healthy as themselves shouldn’t be sick, and the fact that you and I are, but look normal shakes their sense of health and invincibility and makes them fearful that things aren’t always what they seem.

    I am praying for that tumor to shrink!

  22. Tamara Cosby says:

    I could easily see myself saying this without thinking. I hope you are teaching me to watch my tongue in situations such as these. I know this might not be a fun topic, but are there words of encouragement that would be better? I am so clueless and don’t want to say the wrong thing (as I am sure others feel too). You are amazing Why Mommy!!!!!!!!!!

  23. ~JJ! says:

    Love the new look here…

    Sometimes we truly don’t know what to say…And sometimes we may say the wrong thing…But always know that we are in love with you and your honesty…

    I come here, believe it or not, to be inspired.

    By you.

    And you never fail me…

    I am thankful for finding you. And I will be thankful for you every day.

    (Did you tell him his words bothered you?)

  24. JHS says:

    I also love the new look of your site (I usually read in Bloglines).

    I understand your post . . . a little. Not to the extent that you are experiencing your feelings, but when I was going through a series of surgeries on my left eye following retinal detachment (which did not end well . . . I have only peripheral vision left), a woman I have known my whole life actually said to me on the phone, “Well, at least you have one good eye left.”

    I hung up the phone and stared at it from my position on my stomach on my bed where I had to stay for 2.5 weeks following the first surgery. I was cut to the core by her unintended insensitivity.

    My remaining good eye has been lasered in all 4 quadrants for retinal tears and lattice degeneration, and is full of floaters that make reading, etc. challenging. I have named all of my floaters and talk to them. I wait for them to move so that I can read and monitor them constantly as a new floater could indicate a new tear or lattice degeneration developing, as could flickers and flashes of light (“lightning strikes,” I call them) or, God forbid, the “gray curtain” descending which means the retinal is fully detaching.

    That woman and I are still friends. I know she was thoughtless and did not mean to hurt me. But that comments stays with me 6.5 years later and will until the day I die.

    Once you have experienced the things I have or, to a much greater extent, what you are going through, you are never the same person. It would be impossible not to be forever changed.

    In my case, retinal detachments are not LIFE-threatening, but they are life-threatening. If I lost my sight, my life would never be the same. I would have to learn Braille, stop driving and being independent, etc.

    People just don’t understand until they’ve been through a trial of their own strength and endurance.

    Stay strong and know that all of your loyal readers and supporters are here with you in spirit, even if we don’t always leave comments. I read your posts every day and always send out a prayer & good vibrations as I do. I smile hugely every time I see new photos of your adorable boys and ask the God that I worship to watch over your entire family.

  25. NoRegrets says:

    I love the new look of the site. Nice and bright.
    Was thinking,,, maybe you should think of a pin you could make up that you can wear and point to, or even just wear, that can say what you can’t to things like that. Even just one that says ‘think’? I’m not really sure what the most appropriate thing would be that’s not offensive, but might send out a subliminal message. I’ll think about it. ‘Cancer sucks’?

  26. sherry says:

    Taxol is the hardest drug I took. I know exactly where you are coming from with this. To sleep is bliss. I was given tylenol 3’s for mine and I just faded out for the time the past lasted..usually 1-2 days. I could do that because my sons were older and at school all day and my husband picked up the slack when I was zoned out.
    As for the comments…they do hurt. But we learn as we go through this that we need to develop a “block out” system…to not “hear” what others are saying. It takes time and it doesn’ t happen overnight. But I feel you can do this. Just as you have been doing everything else.

    Bless you…and may the pain not be any worse than you can bear.

  27. I understand how someone could say that and mean well and also how infuriating it must be. That furor will help you beat the big C.
    BTW, I can’t believe in the midst of all this Taxol you re-did the site! Looks great, though!

  28. amanda says:

    Well, you are so *very*-
    and of course, so very adored.

  29. platespinner says:

    i am amazed that you’re able to continue blogging with such dedication.

    however it is for you at any time is okay. and i hope tomorrow is a better day.

    you are doing great!

  30. […] something so grave really can happen to someone so vital comes out in innocent phrases like “but, you’re so young and healthy!”  and thus, Whymommy has to socially negotiate other people’s struggles with the […]

  31. Babe, I haven’t read the comments. I know what they will say.

    Words have different colours dependent on our mood. Some days these words mean nothing, they don’t even register.

    Some days they are infuriating.

    Others just painful.

    Dependent on the day.

    My situation is so much different to yours, but the reaction is the same. Some days the response to my son doesn’t even register and others I either want to stab them in the eye with a fork or dissolve into tears.

    But it helps to talk about it. That is what you are doing. I understand that and those that have been following you for a while understand that.

    You are constantly in my thoughts. Sending a refill of those hugs.

  32. Damn, that Bon. She beat me to it, every word. But she’s also much wiser than me, and said what I wanted to say so beautifully, so all I can do is defer to her and say ‘ditto’.

    And this mantra, sent out and up into the sky for you: operable. operable. operable.

  33. Holly says:

    I think it feels like a rebuke because it is a rebuke… but not against you. It’s a rebuke against unfairness, against wrongness, against the cruelty of cancer.

    Maybe if we rebuke it enough, it will go away.

    Scram, cancer!

    I think of you daily and yearn for the best for you, today and in the future.

  34. You changed the blog (Sorry, I have been reading through my bloglines and just noticed this when I stopped by this morning). It looks good!!!

    I don’t know what to say. The “i’m sorry”s and the “this shouldn’t have happened” just feel in appropriate.

    I was going to say something thoughtful, something touching, something meaningful. But all the phrases and the words seem empty.

    I read your blog because it touches my heart. I read it because it gives me an insight to how strong of a woman you are. You are strong because you have to be. Thank you for sharing something that is very personal and very painful.

  35. Alison says:

    You are not alone.

    I have two tumors on my thyroid. I’ve been through three radiation treatments. Nothing compared to your journey but if one more person tells me that thyroid cancer is the best kind of cancer to get, if that is my diagnosis, I swear I’m going to deck them. There is no “best kind of cancer”.

    I sit in my car sometimes or at the supermarket and look at people and scream in my head, “Don’t you know I could have cancer? Don’t you know I’m 27 and I could be leaving my children?” It is the daily little things that can sometimes throw us off. People try to find the right words, as I am now, and sometimes they just set us off.

    You are not alone. Love your new site and I love your strength! You are an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us.

  36. LawyerMama says:

    I can’t imagine how your cancer changes everything about the world now. Bad things aren’t supposed to happen to young women, to mothers of young children, to us or people like us. So when we hear of the horrible striking so close to home, it’s unthinkable. And we say stupid things.

    I think about you often, Susan. And your little boys.

    (Love the new site.)

  37. Alice C says:

    Somebody said that to me once. In a different context. He won’t remember me but I can still remember what he looked like even though it was 20 years ago. Sometimes the words that cause the most pain are the most trite.

  38. Ally says:

    You’ve taught me so much, WM, about how these well-meaning words can be received. I’m trying to train my mouth to keep silent and listen.

  39. Suzanne says:

    I understand how you feel because I have so many people say that to me. I am 29 and have IBC along with two young boys 3 and 7 months. You can do it. I pray for you.

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