Talking to a fellow brain tumor survivor the other day, I noticed how apologetic she was.
“It wasn't cancer,” she said. “It was just benign.”
I've done it too.
Apologized that my tumor wasn't as bad as it could have been. As if that means I'm only allotted a certain amount of time to grieve or a certain amount of attention / concern / support from others.
Sometimes, I've even called myself lucky.
I did not have cancer, that's true. Apologizing for that, though, is just me trying to take care of other people, or afraid of what people will think.
All of this began with the word: benign.
In medical parlance, it simply means it's not cancer.
In the dictionary, it means being kind, gentle, gracious, pleasant and beneficial. One definition even said, "healthful."
What I had wasn't any of those things.
My brain tumor kindly and gently moved my brain to the side to make room for itself in my skull. It graciously took away the balance on the right side of my body and the hearing in my right ear. It beneficially put me in the hospital for nearly 20 days.
How thoughtful and benign of this tumor, wouldn’t you say?
There is a lot malignant-tumor patients and benign-tumor patients have in common. The most important of them is that moment in the doctor's office.
The moment when you're told every assumption you had about the rest of your day, and your whole life, has changed.
I will never forget that MRI film with the big white blob on it that wasn't supposed to be there. I didn't need the diagnosis to know I was in trouble.
The moment of diagnosis was followed quickly by having to tell people I care about. Watch their reactions. Face my own mortality.
So, with all of this, what exactly am I apologizing for? And what are you?
Here's what I'd like to happen:
I'd like to take as long as I need in order to grieve and understand and discuss what happened
I'd like to treat myself with the same concern and care I would give to anyone else
I'd like for you to be able to do the same for yourself, no matter what you’re going through
I feel sorry for myself about what happened. I see all the good that has come after, and I'm thrilled about that, but sometimes it still trips me up. How sad and angry I am that something bad happened I had no control over.
I know I'm not alone. You have faced, will face, or are facing your own challenges.
You might not have a tumor, and if so, I'm glad. But you might have something else you're apologizing for just the same.
Apologizing that it's not as bad as what someone else is going through. Sorry that you aren't perfect. Shrugging off concern with an, "I'll be fine."
There is no reason for any of that.
You get to be wherever you are. Maybe it's your job, your relationship, your children, or your desire for any of these that hasn't happened the way you hoped.
If it doesn’t feel fair, and you’re sad, angry or afraid, say so. Diminishing it only makes it worse.
How we treat ourselves helps us move on with perspective and peace of mind. It also helps us treat others with love and kindness.
Start with you. Start right now with how you talk about what's happening in your life.
Where you are is real. What you feel is real. Let it be.