I Couldn’t Have Expected Leukemia To Lead To Both Heavy Self-Criticism and New Friendships

Cancer attacks its victims in countless ways.  Although most people who are not personally impacted by this disease would naturally assume that cancer only wreaks havoc on one’s body, that is far from the extent of the damage that it does.  Cancer is also an overpoweringly destructive force on one’s emotions and mental well-being.  As if that were not enough, cancer never really releases one from its clutches – even if in remission or cured.  Once impacted by this loathsome disease, the fear of its recurrence or resurgence is always with you. 

And yet there is still more trauma that cancer can create.  Because of the sheer unbridled terror that the mere mention of “the C-word” instills in people, people unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer often find themselves somewhat abandoned.  Cancer is frequently too much for many friends of those afflicted with it to bear.  I know of countless cancer sufferers who have lost friends once their diagnosis became known.  This is not, in my view, so much a character flaw in those erstwhile friends as it is an understandable inability to face that which is so terrifying.  And because of this terror, many are left at a loss as to what to say or how to help and just divorce themselves from the overwhelming situation altogether.  It is regrettable, of course, but not incomprehensible.  

Even under the best of circumstances – when there is little impact on existing friendships – cancer is a largely solitary experience.  Try though they might, even the best-intended and most giving of friends cannot unfortunately – and fortunately – truly know what it is like to endure cancer unless they themselves have suffered under it.  The relentless and pervasiveness of the ramifications of cancer are largely incomprehensible to one with cancer, much less someone trying to understand it a step or more removed. 

Yet, in spite of all of this – or perhaps because of it – I have actually found something quite surprising when it comes to the intersection of cancer and friendship:  I have made some very dear friends who are unfortunately experiencing many of the same trials and tribulations that I am.  I never expected cancer to be a source of anything positive, much less something so vital as friendship.  But to my delight it has been just that. 

A not insignificant portion of my amazement about the evolution of these new friendships stems from my long-standing attitude towards having cancer and, more specifically, how it has impacted my own views about myself.  If there is anything that I possess in great abundance, it is self-criticism and its frequent cohort, self-loathing.  Having cancer does nothing to boost one’s views of one’s own self-worth.  In addition to all of the self-critiques I leveled at myself for years beforehand, the last six years since my diagnosis with leukemia have enabled me to add an entirely new genre of criticism – incurable, chronic illness.  If that doesn’t make one feel worse about oneself, then that person is a true glass-half-full type if there ever were such a thing. 

Not unrelated to this diminution in self-worth, I also experienced a reluctance – bordering on outright apprehension – of associating with other cancer victims.  I rather selfishly was concerned that by hobnobbing with others who also possessed an overabundance of defective white blood cells, I ran the risk of meeting those who were worse off than I and thus who were living foreshadows of my future.  At the other extreme, but equally self-concerned, I dreaded meeting those with my diagnosis who were much better off than I.  I was genuinely apprehensive that such others would make me feel worse about my situation and, to be blunt, even bitter about the hand I had been cruelly dealt. 

Despite all of this, however, I somehow managed to forge some wonderful and deeply cherished friendships.  It would probably be facile to explain this away as misery loving company, although there is of course both plenty of misery with cancer and plenty of those suffering from it.  Rather, while that simplistic explanation might reveal some truth about why we have been brought together, the reality is much more complex and even, perhaps, metaphysical:  There is something so profoundly altering about being diagnosed with cancer that it results in a new understanding of that which is important and that which is not.  Of course, matters that were always important such as family and living in the moment become only more so with the imposition of a cancer sentence.  But beyond that, commonalities and the essence of what makes one a good person take on an outsized role. 

In light of that, I have made a number of friends who unfortunately share my predisposition to a malignant existence.  Yet, without cancer, we would not have likely met, but more profoundly we might not have given ourselves the opportunity to become friends.  By hewing away that which is truly not important, I have found myself able to form such strong bonds with these new friends as we share our experiences not just about cancer, but about what life really means and how much we value it.  We come from different places and have many different life experiences that have brought us to this common place, but cancer has lifted the fog that otherwise would have been impenetrable to these friendships.  And while cancer may have done irreparable damage to our bodies, the one thing that it has actually improved was our ability to truly see.  

Note: This piece was originally published on iHadCancer’s website and may be found there at: https://www.ihadcancer.com/leukemia-lead-to-self-criticism-and-new-friendships.


After being discharged from the hospital with no more knowledge than what I went in with – other than I didn’t have the flu (and, yes, of course, I had gotten my flu shot before) – I went home and tried to start recuperating from whatever this was that was so afflicting me.  My plans for convalescence were regrettably quite premature. 

That night I barely slept a wink.  In fact, I was so uncomfortable that I did not even bother to try.  Lying down was completely infeasible as I could not breathe and coughed even more and although as a dad I am generally quite adept at falling asleep in any form of armchair – particularly with the television on – even that home formula for Ambien failed me.  It was one of those nights where you wish it were already day – despite how unbelievably tired you are – because at least then you can give up the charade of trying to sleep.  And you can also complain to others about how little sleep you got. 

Read More

“You’ll Catch Your Death of Cold.” Really. (But Not Really.) Part Two

When last we left our most unwilling protagonist – me – we were preparing for a trip to the emergency room due to my high fever and myriad other symptoms.  Although this may strike many as completely nonsensical, I have a steadfast belief that the last place one wants to be when ill is at the hospital.  After all, there are all manner of sick people there.  This is even more troubling for someone like me who, as we know, has the immune system which at this stage could most charitably be described as non-existent. 

Alas, we were really not left with any other options.  Because this was Sunday – as these types of emergencies only occur outside of normal business hours – my only choices were the ER or an urgent care.  Melissa and I briefly contemplated the latter, but we felt fairly confident that as soon as they heard I had cancer then they would wash their hands of the matter (the matter being me) and send me off to the ER anyway.  So we decided to cut out the middleman – and the extra co-payment – and go straight to the hospital. 

Read More

“You’ll Catch Your Death of Cold.” Really. (But Not Really.) — Part One

As many of my devout readers are undoubtedly aware, there has been an overwhelming silence emanating from me and this blog for the past couple of weeks.  And, as these same followers also are certainly aware, I always have something to say about pretty much everything so such a silence is quite atypical for me.  So, pray tell, what caused this lack of pontification from me?  To put it simply, I thought I was on death’s doorstep for several days.  It turns out that I was actually, however, suffering from what is probably best classified as a cold (and which still has me feeling quite suboptimal).  But I think it is a fair question of you, the reader, to wonder how something as admittedly annoying but as non-lethal as the common cold could cause one to think that Charon’s canoe was being docked in my front yard. 

For starters, I think it is only appropriate for me to state that I am not a hypochondriac.  I am related to a number of such people, and I know I am not like that.  Plus, the vernacular usage of the term implies an irrational obsession with illness and maladies in general.  Applying that understanding of the term, I am pretty sure that it is impossible to be simultaneously a hypochondriac and one with cancer.  I assert this because, rather unfortunately, there is no illness, ache, pain, sniffle or cough that one living with cancer could readily dismiss as unimportant or even simply uninteresting.  Particularly when one has a chronic (i.e., incurable) form of cancer, constant vigilance regarding one’s health is not only prudent but often mandatory.  In fact, a better term for those of us with cancer would be hyperchondriac because no matter how much attention we pay to our health, we cannot be as knowledgeable about our badly-behaving bodies as would be ideal.  (I note that Merriam-Webster does not recognize hyperchondriac as a term, but Urban Dictionary does.  Let’s get into the 21st century, M-W!) 

Read More