The most charitable thing I can say about the group is that it isn’t “Healthy” Person Support. Any time I get together with a bunch of recovering addicts, co-dependents, or Cancer patients, I face the inescapable conclusion – we is afflicted peoples. If the addicts seem a little narcissistic, attention-loving, “Me, me, me, lemme tell you about my drunk day exploits” it’s because they are in the process of heal-ing. They wouldn’t need the meetings had they already successfully unlearned misguided anti-social behaviors. Co-dependents present as slightly less anti-social, more manipulative, more victim-y but the same caveat applies. If they’re in A-Alon, cut ’em some slack. They are trying to get better. They are work in process, learning how to stop trying to “fix” other people.
But remembering that a Cancer Support group is made up of unhealthy people is curiously harder to realize. I fail, initially, to cut us the requisite slack. Only on the ride home do I realize, we’re not a Healthy Person Support. Cancer Patient Support groups are made up of, guess what? Cancer patients. Patients sometimes under the influence of endocrine altering drugs, or in pain, or suffering from depression and anxiety.
Cancer effects people in ever so many ways, making us tired, grumpy, skewed in our judgement. All of that crosses my mind as I take the long journey home, a quiet 50 minute drive by myself on the dark Interstate highway. Perhaps, when under duress, we like people less than we would under other circumstances. Worse yet, perhaps we become less likable. Socializing is challenging after a Cancer diagnosis. One is loathe to answer the obligatory questions about what stage, what treatment, what doctor because they lead the conversation onto painfully personal subjects.
I attend the group with a very clear personal agenda. I’m doing research of my own for my own personal use. I realize after I arrive that groups have a way of having agendas of their own. Of course they do. That’s what makes them groups and organizations. This group aims more to train patients how to talk to their doctors than it does to allow people to talk with each other. I am disappointed. The ladies of the group have things they want to tell me that they believe I should ask my doctors. The how is made very clear, the why? Not so much. phooey.
I don’t have any issues with my care providers. I feel sincerely I am getting excellent care. From my team of doctors to the admin people who schedule appointments everyone, every single one, has been patient, kind, compassionate, knowledgeable, helpful, encouraging, supportive, respectful, wholly comforting through this very difficult and alienating experience. I commend them.
I’ve been blissfully free from dismissive health care professionals. I am not being bullied to take drugs. The choice is wholly up to me. (Frankly I experience more bullying from non-doctors. People who tell me to go to alternative therapies don’t like taking “no” for an answer.) Through my medical treatment I am provided options, myriad ones, stats, ratios, studies, outcomes, pathologies, tests, and the opportunity to ask any question I like, any number of questions. I get a plethora of information from my team. Without them leading or guiding, I’m tasked to make my care decisions entirely on my own understanding. The information is made available indiscriminately.
I am aware that some of my co-hort are not so lucky. There are certainly plenty of quacks ready for the exploitation of vulnerable patients. And let’s not forget that yesterday’s radical, outlier cure: chemo, radiation, estrogen stoppers and blockers, are today’s accepted regiment. One woman’s quack cure is another woman’s miracle. While there are a few absolutes: Vitamin C doesn’t cure Cancer. There’s also a lot of grey: vitamin C is still good for me. Yoga and exercise build bone density, but they obviously don’t preclude people from getting ill.
I muse over all these realities on my drive home while listening to a “Hidden Brain” podcast. The topic is brain function. In an episode “Eyes Wide Open,” the broadcast explores the many functions of sleep. I consider my nightly nightmares. Bad dreams are not a known side effect of radiation therapy. Most people have good dreams. In the general population a mere 3% of dreams are bad. The Veterans Administration reports that in PTSD populations nightmares run from 52-96% of dreams. hmmm. And I’m running 100% in the last six to nine weeks.
The connection between Cancer and PTSD is tenuous at best; but the connection between stress in PTSD is pretty well established. My point is, and I do have one, that Cancer is inherently stressful, even in the best most well supported conditions. Surgery and biopsies are physically traumatic, and the persistent bad dreams are a natural (albeit unpleasant) result.
Having put a name on the problem I can finally commence working on easing the PTSD which I did not know I had. The suggested cure is both mentioned on the podcast and corroborated by a quick internet search. If you or someone you know suffers from persistent bad dreams have them manually write down their dream. A pen and paper is better than typing or texting on a device. Creatively re-write the dream with a different (i.e. happy) ending.
I might, for example, dream of feeling anxious and of being abandoned or lost. While awake I write down a story where I re-write the rending. Embroider a pleasant ending. Sew up the loose selvage so that instead of waking up gasping for breath I dream of serenity, rainbows, care bears, puppies and kittens. It’s perfectly ok to be fantastic. Vividly creative revisions will probably stick better than plain ones. Re-write the dream persistently, until the brain accepts the revision. I must admit I am still quite quite astonished to learn other people have good dreams 97% of the time. I’m looking forward to the experience.
The funny thing about being a Cancer patient is that it doesn’t obliterate co-dependent nor addictive personality. If anything, the Cancer provides a convenient cover. The Al-Anon who is used to fixing other people, bless her heart, is now under a guise of decimating information, free to tell anyone – everyone – what to do. Lose Weight! Drink Chamomile tea! Do headstands! Take estrogen blockers! God help the addict who gets Cancer while still in a dysfunctional relationship with a co-dependent. Vice versa is no better. A passive addict might go into relapse from the stress of the disease. Let’s be careful out there!
Now y’all play nice.