Cancer, Reality, and Mania

Paul R. Mazur, MD, MPH, from Northport, Maine, writes in with a letter about Mary Valle’s weekend essay about cancer-ward poetry, “Doggerel Fails Me“:

Courageous bit of writing by Mary Valle. Cancers, and a good many other chronic diseases, of necessity bring one up against awesome realities. I admire those who give access to the full range of understanding and all their feelings when confronting the possibilities of death and the hard work of dying. Saccharine poetry is one of the masks of denial—a negation of our common humanity. Thanks for telling it like it is!

In another letter about the same essay, Sara adds:

Reading that poem reminds me of my manic depression. It sucks everything out of you. There are so many people who don’t get it. It has this stigma of “just get over it… pray more… get out more… find something you love and do it and you’ll feel better.” You do lose vigor and friends and jobs and everything you love and it all comes back to “it must be me.”

I know people who’ve gone through cancer treatment and they try to keep their spirits up and they try (key word: try) so hard to stay cheerful and happy and up and hopeful around people because they want to give that word of “It’s gone and the doctors have no idea what happened!” to everyone. Otherwise, why were THEY praying? What good did it do? Wasn’t that the point? To avoid dying? To get cured?

People try to find things to say to get morale back up. But sometimes just saying, “Man, you must feel terrible. This really sucks. Let me help you.” Or “I have no idea what to say,” and keeping your mouth silent is the best thing in the world. We don’t mind at all. Just being present is fantastic.

We too have no idea what to say. Do you?