Cancer, Chemo, Emotions: It’s OK Not to be SO OK

In the past few months, I’ve blogged a few times about my admiration for those strong women on TV who are in the process of, or have transitioned through, chemotherapy.

Yesterday Robin Roberts (ABC) shared her chemo hair loss story during Good Morning America. Once again, Robin rose to the occasion, showing incredible strength, and it seemed to me, almost afraid of her own emotions — as if she had put her emotions on a shelf, perhaps to be dealt with later.

That was in great contrast with Hoda Kotbe’s (NBC) sharing of several weeks ago. Hoda shared her experience, after it was all over, but was still incredibly emotional and, it seemed to me, very real.

Then later last night, a woman named Lynn posted a comment to one of my blog posts about Robin’s experience, saying she was diagnosed a week before Robin was, and has had difficulty watching Robin’s reports, because she just doesn’t feel so strong. Her challenge is not about putting on a very public positive appearance; rather, she is challenged by paying her bills. (Thanks for writing, Lynn.)

This morning, I went to the ABC website to see what kinds of comments had been added to the story Robin shared yesterday. There are well more than a thousand comments — I read only about a dozen. But they are overwhelmingly atta-girls, and written by other strong women like Robin. So where were the comments by someone like Lynn?

And then it struck me. There was no allowance for individual differences… the role model had become not just a role model; rather, now she has become the expectation.

I do think there is an incredible amount of power and confidence (and healing) to be gained by doing anything you can to control your situation when faced with adversity. Robin shared her mother’s wisdom which I loved, “Make your mess your message.”

It worked for me. Taking control of my own situation, tightening my grip — I steered my own course and as a result, avoided chemotherapy all together.

But some people choose not to do that, and I think it’s unfair of those who are more public in nature to create a new expectation level that is impossible, and not even necessary for someone’s health. Hoda’s example was probably the best. She showed us her true and difficult emotions. But her emotions did not make her weak; instead they made her very real.

So that’s my message for today. No matter who you are, no matter how public or private your health situation, no matter what disease or debilitation it is — don’t let these public figures set YOUR standard. Don’t wonder what is wrong with you if you can’t meet their levels.

Instead, find your own strength, and transition through your treatment in your own way. If dragging yourself to work is the best you can do — that’s still fantastic! If wrapping yourself in a blanket, lying on the couch, and sipping hot chocolate makes you feel better, then go for it! If putting on a smiley face and pretending you haven’t been affected actually makes you feel better — then more power to you.

But do NOT let anyone else’s managing of their disease and treatment become your own expectation for yourself. Lynn figured out what she can handle. I figured out what I could handle. Robin and Hoda figured theirs out, too. None of us let anyone else define our expectations of ourselves. We have all just met our own expectations.

It’s up to each of us — man or woman — to figure out what our own individual levels are, and then to rise to our individual levels of expectation for ourselves. That’s patientude, too.

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Trisha Torrey
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