Just ask

I was talking with Lynn this morning about how fortunate I felt. I know I have melanoma, and now diabetes, but the melanoma isn’t affecting my daily life at this point. I can do the things I could before and my energy level has been pretty good lately. I’m not taking my current state for granted, though. I know that I’m just one scan away or one symptom away from having a much different experience. That’s my world now. There’s no cure, just hope and worry.

As I said, I feel good, and I think I look pretty good. My skin color is somewhat pale. Guess I’m not getting enough sun these days. Go figure!

I just mention this because I think people often seem surprised that I don’t match their mental image of a “cancer patient.” I think I know what they’re expecting. It’s what I would have expected prior to my diagnosis. I know now, based on my own experience, and from the other melanoma travelers I’ve seen at my oncologist’s offices, there is no such thing as a typical melanoma patient. I also know that it’s possible to look good and feel like crap. If you want to know how someone is really doing, ask. You might get an honest answer.

Truth is, I’m not likely to give an honest answer. I tend to gloss over the low points, even with my health care providers. As I noted, I’m feeling pretty good, cancer-wise, but I’m struggling with diabetes management. I got the diabetes as a side-effect of Nivolumab treatment, so it’s all part of my journey now. I tend to gloss over that because I don’t want to go into the details all the time, but also because I want to project an image of “I got this.” Mostly, I don’t want to be that “cancer patient” that people have in their minds. That I still have in my mind.

I was what I would call a sickly kid. I’ve had asthma for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I got medication that allowed me to effectively manage it. Until then I was constantly at risk of running out of breath or having a serious attack that left me gasping for breath for hours. I avoided many activities because of fear of those attacks. The asthma definitely affected my life and my self-image. It wasn’t until I got that managed in my 20s that I gained some degree of control over my life and also began to gain some self-confidence.

That’s the attitude that I internalized, the attitude that you can’t be a real man if you are weak or vulnerable. Or sick. I realize now that I have not shaken off that attitude. So I often dissemble. I don’t mean to deceive or hide what’s really going on, but it’s a reflex. I have to really trust to be really honest about this stuff. Or be really tired.

So, if you want to know how someone is doing, just ask. Just know that you might not get a totally honest answer. That’s OK. You should check in regularly and ask them again, though. It shows you care and, with time and trust, you might get an honest answer.

Just ask.


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