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Not Really a Silver Lining

Posted 4/10/2015

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  Since writing the entry a few days ago about the down side (loss and sadness) of my work, I have been thinking even more than usual about some of the usual reactions and conversations about having cancer.

Many of these comments ad discussions happen with people who have not had cancer. It often seems that they are determined to make us feel better or, at least, to ease their own worries.

How often have you been told "I know you will find a silver lining in your cancer experience." ? Most of us are flooded with rage (or at least irritation) when we hear such comments, and count them among the many stupid remarks made by well-meaning people. One woman in one of my groups this week related exactly this story. She received a card from a friend and resisted opening it for several days, feeling certain that it would contain at least one trite and unhelpful remark. Indeed it did--the "silver lining"one. Her comments led to a lively group discussion about the absolute absence of a silver lining related to  cancer.

Now, before some of you disagree strongly and remind me that some good things can indeed happen after  cancer, let's reframe the expression. Having been living with breast cancer since 1993, I am well aware that there have been many blessings in my life through those years. Most of them would have happened if I had not had breast cancer, but it is likely that I appreciated them even more because of my heightened sense of life's value and uncertainty. Marker events like graduations, weddings, or births most certainly seem even more marvelous when we had often wondered if we would be alive to celebrate them. Getting older feels like a victory, and many of us have become quite skilled at noting and appreciating the little things in life. We do actually stop to smell the roses or pull over to the side of the road to watch the sun sink into the water.

However, to think of any of these things as blessings or a silver lining from cancer feels like a very big stretch to me. If you are better able to think of them this way, I am admiring of your ability to do so.

A few weeks ago, another group member, during a similar conversation (yes, this comes up a lot), said: "It is much more like a rusty, tin lining." This is a concept that I can embrace. The rusty tin lining for me includes all the wonderful women whom I have met, the increased gratitude for my family and dear friends, my learning not to put things off, but to go ahead and make that phone call or take that trip now because I don't count on tomorrow. I am better at spending money (fortunately for my bank account, not too much better), much better at saying "no" to unwanted invitations or obligations, and even better at recognizing what brings me joy--and making it happen.

Let's hear about your rusty tin lining.

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