We are a couple of years on from Gav’s diagnosis, and I have had a long time to think. Well, we both have, but I’m the gobby one, so here it all is. Gav doesn’t mind that I wrote it, he knows how things buzz round my head until they spill out, so although I say ‘I’ alot, it is ‘we’ really.
I think I’ll end up writing a few posts, otherwise you’ll be ploughing your way through a BOOK! haha So this post is how I felt/feel about telling people – and why it took so long to actually tell EVERYONE and how I feel about it now. And I feel like I might touch a teeny bit, on breaking the taboo that surrounds talking about cancer with the people who are facing it.
As loads of you already know, over Christmas 2014, we were given the devastating news that Gav most probably had a type of blood cancer. It was diagnosed properly, on Jan 2nd, 2015.
He was diagnosed with an incurable (but not terminal) type of Lymphoma, and you can read all about it, here
For a really long time, I couldn’t talk about it without crying. It took me 9 months to eventually post about it on Instagram and write the blog post. I felt like I had to be really strong to write it, and I definitely didn’t feel strong or safe, or confident for a long, long time. We took a very long time to even feel strong enough to tell our friends. Initially we only told our closest friends, but after a while we felt brave enough to start telling others and be A) able to answer their inevitable questions and B) cope with the flood of sympathy.
I think that because Gav’s diagnosis needed a bit of explaining, it took us a long time to be able to do that explaining with out crying half way through. Suddenly I’d find my voice just going, tears falling uncontrollably and unable to to do the explaining and reassuring that I needed to be able to do. Because I felt I had to reassure who ever I was telling. I could’t bear for them to feel bad. I know, that sounds weird, but by reassuring them, I was kind of reassuring myself, too.
Gav, strong and sensible as always, sent a beautifully worded email to his circle of mates. And I sort of took it upon myself to make sure everyone else knew. And it took so much energy. Energy he didn’t have.
Sometimes I’d feel like we had a massive sign above us saying ‘Gav’s got cancer, can’t you tell??!!!’ And I wish they’d see it and ask us. But of course, there was no sign. So unless we said it out loud, no-one would know.
And telling people was incredibly hard, after all, how do I casually drop it in to a conversation? How do I look at that person and know I am about to drop a bombshell? Posting on Facebook was NOT going to happen. Should I send a round robin?? Or tell a friend in the biscuit aisle of Sainsbury’s when I bump in to them? (the tissue aisle might have been an appropriate aisle come to think of it) And had they already heard? and haven’t been able to tell us they know? because that might upset us or make us feel like people are talking ? (which of COURSE they were?! it would be weird if they weren’t!)
I had a couple of situations where someone would rather pretend they hadn’t seen me, than face me, and say hello. And I totally understand that. I am ashamed to say that before it happened to us, I might have been the person that pretended not to see me. After all, why would I want to upset me??
I understand now, that to say NOTHING, is a gazillion times worse, than saying the wrong thing. Say SOMETHING. Anything. You aren’t being nosy, you are caring. You can tell yourself you don’t want to pry, and square it in your own head by making it ok, and then carry on walking on the other side of the road, and you will have forgotten all about it by the time you get back to your car. But you can bet your bottom dollar that if you are brave enough to approach that person, they will appreciate you asking SO much. And for me, I’d be so grateful that A) I don’t seem to have leprosy after all and B) I know the courage it took for you to approach me C) I’d also be heaving a sigh of relief that I don’t have to use masses of energy to start telling you and working out what to say.
Even if your friend’s eyes fill with tears and she hurries away, I promise she won’t think badly of you for trying. Bad stuff can really make people feel lonely. Don’t make anyone stay lonely if you can help it.
27 months on (yes I am counting) and I am happy to say that my tears have stopped falling (as much) and my voice remains even if I talk to you about it (my heart rate still jumps but you can’t see that)
You might be wondering why we felt we should tell people when it took so much energy to do so. For us, telling people seemed to reduce the pressure of it all. It meant we weren’t living a lie or living with a horrid secret. If we had just put a big front on and kept it all to ourselves I think lots of things would have been affected in a negative way. The boys might have felt unable to share their worries with their friends, if they needed to. It could have become the worst best kept secret – with everyone knowing something was up and Chinese whispers going round would have been horrible for everyone. And by voicing it, by saying CANCER out loud, and using that horrid word more often than anyone would like to, somehow made the word itself less scary.
I Know all cancers are different – and the treatment Gav had, gave no outward clue to what was happening. He looked exactly the same – his hair didn’t fall out, he carried on working – after the initial time he took off, post diagnosis, when we were still reeling. Having to tell his staff (he runs his own company) took a lot out of him and it was awful. But the support he received from them was overwhelming. Turns out they love him, too.
And for me now, telling people what has happened, from a positive angle – makes it far easier, than HAVING to tell people one day, if something changes. Does that make sense ? Sort of damage limitation?
I also appreciate that everyone is different – this is just how I see it. I’d heard an old friend was going through a terrible time, regarding the Big C, in her family, and you know, I hardly ever see her. I definitely wouldn’t be bumping in to her, so I could easily pretend I didn’t know. To not message her, to not ‘pry’. She would never know I knew, after all.
The old me, from 28 months ago might have done that. After all why would I want to upset her. Think about that a bit more. To not UPSET her??? I know without any one having to tell me, that she is beyond upset, I KNOW her heart will be breaking in to a million pieces. By messaging, I know I didn’t upset her further. Nor did I even start to mend her heart. I couldn’t even try. And she wouldn’t want me to. But to tell her I know what’s happening, and I am thinking of her, and I am sending her all the big, useless hugs in the world, I hope she just felt a tiny bit more supported for a moment. To know someone out there, knows about what is happening, and is brave enough to say, really helps. It helped us. Friends stepped up out of no where, and we appreciated their support SO much. It gave us strength, when we didn’t feel strong.
On another note, a few people we thought were friends, turned out not to be. And stayed very much looking the other way, on the other side of the road. And that’s ok too. The C word doesn’t half make you filter what is important, and what isn’t, in life. Which is going to be my next post. How stuff like this changes you. And how there is always a silver lining.
Here’s to silver linings
As ever, thank you for reading