I’m Uncomfortable Being a Martyr

I’ve (finally) started really editing my book that I wrote in November. I’m now currently wrestling with whether to add in a potentially controversial essay or not.

The thrust of the essay is: I’m not brave. I’m not inspiring. I’m not a martyr for cancer. It’s just an awful thing that happened to me and I made up my mind to make the best of it.

For me, cancer treatment was straight forward. Show up to chemo, take my meds on time and keep in touch with my doctors. That was all I had to do, just show up. Whether treatment worked or not was out of my hands. I didn’t (and still don’t) understand what is so brave about doing what I had to do.

Most of all, having people throw those labels at me created this huge gulf between us. I was no longer human, it felt, I was this beatific being to be locked in a curio cabinet to look at and not touch. It denied me my very human right to be super angry and frustrated with my situation.

So what do you say when someone mentions that they’re a cancer survivor? “That must have been a difficult experience,” is a good one. Or, “Wow. I’m sorry that you went through such a trial by fire. Those “character building” moments are awful, aren’t they?”

Major issues like cancer create uncomfortable situations. As an outsider, just remember that you’re speaking with a real person with real feelings. Not some super human Lance Armstrong (ick) type.

P.S. I talk about balancing chronic illness with building a new business over at Tara Swiger’s blog. If you want to stay in the loop about my book’s progress, sign up for the newsletter. There are TWO free gifts if you do!

  1. perhaps brave applies to one’s attitude ? To me, ‘making your mind up to make the best of it’ IS brave,if it had been me, I would maybe have wanted to just crawl away and hide.

  2. Hi Vanessa, I kind of know what you mean. I was on dialysis for three years and then had a kidney transplant 3 years ago (YAY!). People used to say “Oh I dont know if I could do it if that happened to me” – I know they are trying to tell me I am brave, but I just get annoyed and want to say “Well if you didn’t you’d be dead!” – like its an option to choose to live!

    Obviously there are different ways of coping but it seems that people so often say things without thinking them through! But I guess I am guilty of that too when its not a situation you have experienced directly.

    Thanks for the post. I think you should include it in your book – the media too often pushes the matyr angle and people should think properly about what its like to really live through these experiences.



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