A Tweak Here, A Twinge There
How many of us have gone through life without little physical aches and pains along the way? Maybe we've awoken with a headache, or perhaps our knee grew painful over the course of a few days. We can probably all relate to simply feeling sick and getting a pesky little cough that doesn't want to go away. These seem like run-of-the-mill ailments, things that happen to everyone and that eventually resolve themselves. But, to a cancer patient, nothing is ordinary anymore.
Constant worries can create tension
It is sometimes hard for people around us to understand why our minds often start churning. "A headache? Oh no, has my disease metastasized to my brain? My knee hurts. It could be bone metastasis. A lingering cough? More tumor growth or effusion in my lungs, perhaps." These are very real possibilities when a person is faced with lung cancer, even though we may look and act "normal" to most people around us, even those who know us well. And for most of us, they raise our anxieties and may create tensions in relationships.
Every person reacts differently to the physical inputs that make up our lives. In fact, our interpersonal relationships may grow starker when we face the enormous challenge of dealing with lung cancer. The patient has no choice but to deal with it head on and learn as he or she goes. Those around him, however, may not be able to understand it from his vantage point, try as they might.
It's okay to ask for help sometimes
We patients, especially in the early days after diagnosis, are told over and over again from those we know that they will do anything for us. We only need ask. And they mean it too. It is human nature, however, first to not ask for help, and second, to feel guilty if we do, assuming that our friends, relatives and acquaintances have their own busy lives and don't need to be bothered with our problems. Soon, this pattern sets in and everyone (or most, at least) who once offered to help has moved on. We patients have even moved on, and we place the burden of our honest and actual needs on those closest to us.
Others "just don't get it"
Our spouses or close family members may begin to feel tense and troubled. We complain of a headache and withdraw, or seem to whine about a persistent twinge in our joint. Perhaps we even offer spiteful responses when they "just don't get it." We don't mean to hurt them. We are just lashing out as a way to release our own physical stresses and fears...and by so doing, we cause a different kind of relationship strain.
It's hard to "put the genie back in the bottle" when we hurt those we love, even though it may well be unintentional. Our loved ones are undergoing the rigors of dealing with lung cancer too. It's up to patients and their loved ones alike to try to walk in the other's shoes, as the saying goes. Love is a two-way street, and sometimes that street is strewn with potholes.
Even with the physical and interpersonal challenges, it's up to all of us to accept the journey for what it is...a trip through gritty authenticity.
Editor's Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on June 8, 2019, Karen Loss passed away. Karen was a valued member of the lung cancer community and an incredible advocate and avid writer. She will be deeply missed.
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?