• Another 100 Days of Good Karma: Day 150 (Horror Stories)

    Monday, December 8, 2014

    Run/ Walk/ Bike/ Elliptical (Today:  0.00 miles;  Running Total: 70.68 miles)

    Day 150 of *Another* 100 Days of Good Karma.

    Last week I received an email from another cancer patient. I admire her bravery in telling me her story, but oh God, it scared me.

    I’ve come to think of these as the ‘horror stories’. That email wasn’t the first. I hear these stories all the time.

    There was the lady at Walgreens. A neighbor with good intentions. The man at the pizza parlor. The woman at the grocery store. The woman in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

    Random strangers tell me all about the worst parts of cancer treatment.

    • Spouses and fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and children dying of cancer.
    • Infections after surgery and the cutting away of more and more tissue.
    • Heart disease and other side effects after cancer treatment.
    • Cancer coming back and going to the brain, blinding people with tumors the doctors can’t stop.
    • The woman who has been on chemotherapy for three years and can’t travel to see her children and tells me this is no kind of life to be living.
    • The man who was given two years to live and is just waiting to die.

    Just like no one knows what to say to me about cancer, I don’t know what to say when people tell me their horror stories. I feel like I have to listen since 1) I’m in the cancer club now and 2) they were brave enough to talk about it in the first place.

    Also, it feels rude to cut people off in the middle of these stories. And it’s incredibly difficult for me to be intentionally rude.

    So I say nothing.  And people take the silence as permission to tell more.

    I understand. Truly, I do.

    People only want to share their burden with someone, want to feel less alone. But I’m fumbling and frightened, too. More often than not, after hearing a horror story I’ll find myself crying in a hot shower watching my hands shake and trying not to scream.

    Maybe I’ve painted the wrong picture here on the blog.

    If, by focusing on the positive I’ve made my life look too sunny, like it’s all coming up roses, let me clarify:

    I do not remotely have my shit together. I am one Xanex away from an epic melt down.

    So in my own self-defense, please, tell me positive stories.  I really need to hear those.

    Or, at the very least, don’t send me scary stories.  They don’t help, and they only frighten me more.

    I will probably hurt someone’s feelings with this post, and I am sorry for that.

    I recognize the irony in the words ‘avoid telling me scary stories’ while I’m telling my own. I considered discontinuing the blog all together because I thought maybe it was opening me up to more stories.  Also, what is it doing to you?  I’m probably terrifying every reader I have.

    But I like my blog and I want to continue.

    So if I lose a few of you, I’m very sorry.

    Maybe someday I will be better at listening to these stories. Right now I am not.

    Today’s silver lining:  Having cancer has made me very conscious of how I make other people feel.  I think it has made me a better human being. 

    In this case, I hope I haven’t hurt anyone and that honesty truly is the best policy.

    What’s your silver lining today?  I love comments!

    Don’t want to leave a comment, but have something you want to share?  Send me an email at gettingthewordswrong(at)gmail(dot)com.


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12 Responsesso far.

  1. Epbj says:

    Your post is ‘perfect’. I’m also guilty of telling you a scary story. Sorry for that I didn’t really think it though at the time, but I think Your Post Is Perfect. It needed to be said, and it was said as nicely as possible. I appreciate your honesty, about your needs, namely to not be scared by cancer stories. I like the blog too, glad you decided to keep it!

  2. Pam says:

    Dear Meghan,

    Thank you for another compelling and insightful blog posting. Narrative has so much power — horror stories evoke a visceral reaction, and I appreciate this blog enormously. Just like a pregnant person isn’t the right person to tell your miscarriage story to, so too is someone in treatment for whatever not the right person to tell your medical horror stories to.

    At the same time, I feel like you’ve captured exactly the right tone in this blog, which is why I’ve enjoyed reading it these 150 days (can it really be 150 days?!?). You’re telling the story of cancer not as a horror story but as a really compelling story of family and community and challenge and survival. And that narrative has power. It evokes a visceral reaction.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing–

  3. Tina Smith says:

    Totally understandable, Megs. Hugs.

    I always equate it to mothers with horror stories about child birth (which is why I never ever volunteer my story to people, usually it’s someone else in the room who says “You know Tina was paralyzed!!) And when I do it’s with a heavy dose of “This is why it won’t be you, because I had these specific factors to deal with. Also it all turned out okay! Here’s some positive things that happened from it” — But with cancer it’s all an unknown playing field. It’s healthy to want to create an emotional firewall.

  4. Caregiver perspective here. My spouse has dealt with cancer since 2011.The last year has been pure hell. That’s the extent of my horror story to share with you, just to make the point that “we have one.” What I want to really comment on is whether or not to share the scary stories. I think, as you surmise, people will overshare. And not THINK about how you feel. (Shortly after my husband’s 2nd recurrence, my own family sat in front of me and talked about all the people they know with cancer and whether they died or are doing awful. I am sure they had no clue how badly this shook me up, and I’m not even the one with the disease. They just were talking.) But my point is this: I want to tell people who are just “starting” out, who are freshly diagnosed, all the things that can go wrong. Because I had no clue, no flippin’ idea, what we would go through for the last 3 years. But, would telling me ahead of time what is possible have prevented any of it? Maybe, in a couple circumstances. So now if I know of someone who has something very similar to my spouse’s situation, I will talk specifically about it. But to just throw the gauntlet of the pain, agony, trials, tribulations at someone? No. Just don’t do it. The stories are out there, should you seek them. But I think people just want to tell their story, to garner sympathy or feel validated, or even thinking it’s a help. Not sure we can ever avoid that without coming off rude. But maybe it’s ok to be rude, to protect your own wellbeing.

  5. Further thoughts… I encourage you to keep this blog, to keep sharing your story, especially posts like this, so maybe people will consider whether they should feel compelled to throw their story at you and others with medical conditions.

  6. Kristel says:

    I wonder if this is kind of like why some people don’t watch/read the news. I know a plane could smash into my house and kill my family but do I need to spend time thinking about it? Nope.

    The saying, “Keep calm and carry on” was created for a reason. The British were being pummeled by war and the only way they could keep their sanity was to just not think about all the shells raining down on their heads. Just keeping putting one foot in front of the other and carry on with daily life. Thinking about all the horror in the world does not add much good.

    Your post makes sense. Kudos to your bravery for saying it out loud.

  7. Alysha says:

    Hi Meghan,

    You bring up a really good point here: just because people are part of the Cancer club it does not mean their experience is the same.
    One day I saw a woman at church with breast cancer. I reached out to her and reassured her that if she ever needed anything to please let me know. Then I made the mistake of saying, “Really, I mean it. I know what it’s like, my husband died of cancer.” After the fact, I turned to my new husband and said, “Why did I say that? No one wants to know what it’s like on the other side.” It was so hard to forgive myself for that.
    Those affected by cancer feel an odd connection with one another. Sometimes walls are prematurely broken down because of what’s considered a commonality. Sometimes it really is — while sometimes it’s not.
    In your case, with the blogging, people cling to vulnerability. It’s something not too many people practice nowadays. So, while you may lose some readers, the ones you’ve gained are the ones who are worth it in the long run as they will continue to help hold you up in the midst of the uncertainties to come. Keep up the great work!


  8. Pam says:

    AMEN! Every time someone tells my Mom one of those horror stories, I spend three days talking her down off the ledge. I know people think they’re “connecting” by sharing their stories but honestly, they just scare the crap out of her.

  9. Mom says:

    Hey baby, did you hear the one about the ……………
    I am selfish when it comes to you and your bout with cancer. I have lots of questions that I would like to ask, but eventually something else pops up with your endeavors and I forget the question.
    I’m the mommy so I just want to make it all better for you even though I know I can’t. I know that Dad and I are very very proud of you in all that you have accomplished. You make us stronger with everything you do.
    Just remember, YOU CAN DO THIS! This blog promotes learning, and dealing, and loving life. It makes me laugh and laughter is the best medicine.
    Go to the kids’ library in your house and get out A Charlie Brown’s Christmas. It will make you smile. Look on the bright side of life! Oh hell, Dad and I love you!


  10. I’m with you about the horror stories, no one needs to share them while you are still in treatment. Positive attitude and prayer are all you need to hear from others.

    You are going to beat this!! Love you

  11. Sam says:


    My story was not intended in no way to be a scary horror story and if it sounded that way I am so very, very sorry. I only shared my story with the purpose of saying even if you hit a rough spot/snag/or have to start the procedure over keep going and don’t be discouraged.

    I also enjoy your blog and admire your courage and attitude. Keep writing you do an excellent job. You are in my prayers each night.


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