I discovered a lump in my right groin area about five years ago and, after rushing to my internist, dermatologist and for a sonogram, I learned there was a distinct chance I could have lymphoma. Remembering that that’s how Jackie O discovered her cancer, I was already planning my goodbyes.
Except for David and my sisters, I didn’t tell a soul about my impending surgery to excise the suspicious lump. Thank goodness, it was a benign cyst, and home I went, happy I was no longer facing doom.
When I told my two young-adult “kids” about the surgery, and the joyous outcome, they were peeved that I didn’t tell them about the lump when I first encountered it. I calmly answered: “Why would I needlessly worry you? There was absolutely nothing you could do about it. You’ve got you’re own lives to lead.”
Empathy doesn’t cure lovesickness, homesickness, or cancer. When I was a 17-year-old freshman at Syracuse University, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, my father typed out countless letters trying to make me feel better. And we spent hours on the phone discussing my hysterical state. Nothing worked. I had what I’d classify as a mini breakdown, took the matter into my own hands, and went home.
Back to my lump. If the scenario had turned out differently, and I was suffering from lymphoma, I probably would have started treatment and figured out the best time to share the news with my kids. Sure, I would want to see my children often if I was ill, because I love them with every cell and molecule in my body, but I would never want my illness to disrupt their young lives, if I could help it. I’m not a martyr. I’m just practical. When my father was dying of metastatic melanoma in 1988, and I was 41, he didn’t expect me or my sisters to stay at his side 24/7.
I apologize if I sound callous. I’m not. I was at my single aunt’s side for three years, when she was ill with advanced colorectal cancer, there every step of the way, during radiation and through surgery, and I accompanied her to every chemo treatment and CAT scan. And I have, and would continue to, drop absolutely everything to help my children in times of crisis.
Of course, I’d call on my kids, and on other loved ones, if I needed their physical help. But if there’s one thing over which I no longer thrive, it’s needlessly worrying and discussing problems, over and over, especially problems that aren’t even problems yet. It’s such a big waste of time and energy. I’d rather use my energy to attack and, hopefully, to solve the problem, that is, once it’s actually a problem. Playing out “what ifs” is downright draining.
I understand that many families need to share and endlessly discuss their challenges, health or otherwise. Perhaps it gives them comfort to know they have a “support” system. The only thing that gives me comfort is knowing I have the tools to “support” myself.