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Posted 12/28/2015

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  Tears accompany cancer sometimes. Inevitably and probably fortunately. Shutting down, holding back, trying not to cry does not turn out to be helpful. Especially during the holidays, there are certain to be tearful moments. No one, or no one I have ever known, has a perfect stress-free holiday season, and worries about cancer and maybe feeling physically poorly make it harder.

  There have been plenty of tears in my office over the last few weeks and more already this morning. It is all okay. Sad, and how I wish that my magic wand actually could improve things, but okay nonetheless. What is important is that we share the pain, bear witness, and stay faithful to each other.

  From Susan Gubar in The New York Times:

Living With Cancer: Shedding Tears
By Susan Gubar

At times, I was so encased in the stoicism needed to endure cancer treatments that I could not feel
much of anything unless someone else felt sorry for me.
Several years ago, debilitating infections threatened my life. Depleted by chemotherapy and a series of
drains inserted into my body by interventional radiologists, I could barely creep from the hospital parking
garage to post-surgical appointments. During the ordeal, I managed to put one foot in front of the other,
but only by shutting down my emotions.
On one trip, when it turned out I had to be hospitalized, a nurse practitioner patted my arm. “You’ve
really been through it,” she said. Summoned by her words of commiseration, tears coursed down my
cheeks. Curiously, they were a relief. I needed her sympathy to experience my own sadness.
The oddity of my emotional dependency reminds me of the ending of a novella I have often taught:
Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” After Ivan finally stops denying a mortal illness, he becomes so
absorbed by his physical degeneration and pain that he feels encased inside a black bag.
When his son arrives at his deathbed and begins to cry, Ivan falls through the bottom of the black sack,
catching “sight of the light.” A compassionate witness — another suffering his suffering — delivers Ivan
from confinement. The dying man perceives the anguish of his survivor and this interpersonal witnessing —
the son grieving for his father, the father for his son — ruptures pain’s carapace.

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