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A cancer diagnosis can make appropriate responses difficult

'I have cancer' can make it hard to respond in appropriate ways

Q: A month ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Beyond the obvious fears, I was afraid my new boyfriend's feelings for me would change, what with the impact of chemo and then surgery. We'd been dating only two months when I was diagnosed.

Now that I've begun treatment, I find that my feelings toward him have changed, partly because he doesn't seem sensitive to what I'm going through. In our first conversation after I told him of the diagnosis, he talked for 20 minutes about his job, trivial conversations with co-workers and ongoing family dramas, before coming up for air to ask how I was doing. Is that normal?

The one conversation I can't forget was his saying that if he thought I wasn't going to make it, he wouldn't be sticking around. Ouch — he apologized when he realized what he'd said, but the words just hung there. Whatever feelings I was developing seem to have evaporated, but I'm not sure if I'm overreacting and should give it some time. He generally lacks self-awareness when dealing with other people. That is now a source of frustration for me.

Cancer or Boyfriend?

A: I'd say your boyfriend was dumbstruck by your news, but instead of "made speechless by shock," we really need "rendered moronic by shock." Duhstruck.

Is this normal? Sure. Most people struggle to form the right responses to "I have cancer," and some take the extra step of blurting out the wrong ones. His fumbles are even less surprising when you factor in both his social awkwardness, and his abrupt emotional promotion: Yesterday "Thai or Chinese?"; today "How can I support you as you fight for your life (even though I have yet to determine how I feel about you)?"

His isn't the only predictable reaction. You, too, are responding to your cancer in a normal way. Life-and-death news is a tornado that picks up your life, shakes it, and drops it on a hill a few hundred feet away. Things you thought would break are intact, things you thought were permanent are shattered, and the light hits virtually everything in a new and surprising way.

There's nothing wrong with assuming a post-tornado attitude from here on out. If it seems trivial, then ignore it. If it seems important, then it is. Your primary question is and should be: "Does this help?" Your primary job is to concentrate your energy only on what helps.

So it's okay to ask yourself "Does he help?" and break up if the answer is no. If you're still unsure of your answer, then please speak up — "I'm disappointed in/confused by/put off by your reaction" — and hear him out.

I'll keep a good thought for your health.

Intimacy made of many parts that fit together in honest love

Q: Can you explain what you think "intimacy" is? I think it's part trust, part openness, part honesty, part acceptance and part other stuff, but I'm hard-pressed to explain.

Anonymous

A: You named the pieces, so just fit them together: Intimacy is when two people are open and honest with each other, even about their less attractive sides; each loves and accepts the whole truth about the other, not just the highlights; and each trusts the other not to use this truth as a weapon.

A cancer diagnosis can make appropriate responses difficult 11/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2009 3:06pm]

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