One of the first things I did after I was diagnosed with breast cancer was to join an on-line support group. I was diagnosed on January 15, 2008; my membership in the “community” at a certain major breast cancer website (which shall remain nameless here) dates from January 17.
I should say, first off and up front, that I found amazing support there during the period between my diagnosis and surgery, and all through my four months of chemo. I mean, really amazing. As in, collecting-my-mail-and-finding-a-surprise-package-of-post-surgical-camisoles-and-nightshirts amazing. I think I cried that day.
Up to then, my experience with on-line communities consisted mostly of a running site, letsrun.com, on which horny cross-country guys told one another how much they sucked, wily masters smacked them down, and spelling-and-grammar trolls prepared to pounce. It could be a very mean place. It was also, often, very funny. (Just thinking about certain threads – “Fanny pack in a 5K,” “Deer Kara Goucher” – still makes me giggle.)
So as much as I valued the kindness and support of this new community – and I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through treatment without it – I also chafed a bit at the constant, unremitting, niceness. Was I a horrible person for wanting just a little acidity to cut through all that sweetness? A newly-diagnosed woman would write something hysterical, making no sense whatsoever (I remember one post in particular, full of “omg’s” and misspellings and referring to chemo, I kid you not, as “tata juice”), and all I could think was, “imagine what the guys at letsrun would do with that.” Surely, someone here would offer some tough love: “Sweetheart, you need to get a grip and grow up. And for fuck’s sake, don’t call it tata juice.” But no. The warm, comforting responses would pour in, welcoming her to “the sisterhood no one wants to be a part of” and telling her that she had come to the right place. Not one word about the tata juice.
And I would feel thoroughly ashamed of myself. Still, I couldn’t shake the sense that this, too, was a form of loss. Cancer had already taken my left breast, my axillary lymph nodes, my ovarian function and my sense of invulnerability. Did I also have to give up sarcasm and bitchiness? Was I fated to a lifetime of signing notes “xoxoxo” and “gentle hugs”? (Which I still do, by the way, so I guess that’s a “yes.”)
As they say: be careful what you wish for. Continue reading