a woman crying in the rain

In Defense of Crying

I think there is an expectation that cancer fighters and survivors are these incredibly strong and resolute beings. They walk through life with heads held high, eyes fixed on the horizon, and perpetually thankful for one more day. I absolutely detest the idea that once diagnosed with cancer you become all zen and accepting of things. If you haven’t heard it from a cancer patient firsthand, let me be the one to tell you: that is all bull.

The expectations we have for people fighting cancer

It is that expectation of a “brave face” that becomes almost as painful as the diagnosis most days. We try to be strong for our families, for our spouses, for our friends. Be strong. Be brave. Don’t give up. Wear your cancer ribbon. Be proud of your scars. Love your bald head. Wear pretty makeup. Show off your muscles. Do people think we are supposed to make our diagnosis a fashion statement?

Bottling up your emotions

Heaven forbid you complain about a bad day or be grumpy. “You should be so happy you’re alive!” When everyone around you wants to see that fight in your eyes and a smile on your face, you do everything you can to oblige. You say “I’m fine, it's fine, everything is fine” over and over, hoping it sticks. You bottle up the sad and the angry and save it for private moments when you are alone. But being alone is hard to find, so you just keep bottling and bottling until, like a shaken soda, you explode.

Let yourself cry

Of course, containing your emotion for days on end is not the most healthy coping mechanism, BUT sometimes it's necessary. We have lives and jobs and days that have to go on. You can’t cry 24/7. So, I say let yourself explode. When it hits you in the middle of a shower or the drive home, let the bomb drop. Cry. Clench your fists, scream at the sky and cry.

I kept my tears inside until I got home

When I was initially diagnosed and was fighting in the hospital, I didn’t cry. If I did, it was from the pain I was fighting. Even after my surgery, I didn’t cry. I spent my entire 4 weeks in the hospital as brave and stoic as a statue. I didn’t talk about my cancer, I didn’t talk about my future. However, when I got home, I cried for 2 weeks straight. I think my eyes stayed perpetually red and swollen. Everything made me cry. Taking my antibiotics, eating breakfast, watching TV, I just cried and cried and cried. I finally had to get to a point where I could contain the tears and flood of emotions, which took time.

I try not to think about cancer throughout the day

These days, I try my best to live as normally as I can. I don’t think about my cancer and all its ramifications throughout the day. But when it becomes too much one day while I’m brushing my teeth, I let it happen. I pound my hands on the counter and let the tears flow. I cry in anger, I cry in sadness and I cry in fear. I let myself feel every single millimeter of emotion. As always, the tears eventually dry, I take deep breaths and go on.

Give yourself permission

Give yourself permission to cry. Give yourself permission to be angry. Give yourself permission to be afraid. Give yourself the grace to let all the thoughts and feelings you box up on a shelf to spill out when it becomes too full. Be human and not the idealistic version the world wants cancer patients to be. Go ahead and cry.

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