Dear Cancer, Boys Do Need to Cry

by Jay MiddletonJune 18, 2021View more posts from Jay Middleton

Dear Cancer,

Every day you take so much from each of us. To those of us with cancer, you often try to take our wellbeing, our dignity, the ability to live a “normal” life and in general you upend everything we knew before you invaded our lives. To family members of those with cancer, you take what is most precious: the individual away from their friends and loved one.

No doubt I’ve felt you cold fingers around my life, but I am here to tell you that I am here to take from you. I am taking myself back. I’m taking the time to learn about myself so that I come back fighting and stronger than I was before. In order to do so I had to learn so much about myself, including how to cry.

I spent the first fifty years of my life trying not to cry, because boys don’t cry.

That is not to say I never cried. I cried when I got spanked as a little kid. Yep, I was spanked as a kid, and for better or worse I seemed to have come out okay.

I didn’t cry when I broke my leg in two places during a high school soccer game.

I did cry why when my dog, Flea, died.

I cried again when my dog, Boo, died.

I didn’t really cry when my dad died. I did get really drunk. And then about three weeks later I cried while sitting in my living room by myself.

But for the most part, I haven’t cried that much over the last fifty year. Again, boys don’t cry.

That is, until I got cancer. I didn’t cry when I found out I had cancer. In fact, I worked the rest of the day and then went home and told my wife I had cancer. She cried.

Somewhere along the way after I got cancer, I gave myself permission to start crying. I still haven’t cried because I have (had) cancer, but I did cry when I had to tell others I had cancer. Seeing the pain and hurt on friends and family’s faces was too much. Screw you Robert Smith (of the very sad goth band The Cure), boys do cry.

Now that I have given myself permission to cry it is easier than not crying.

Giving myself permission became extremely important after my surgery and during my radiation treatment. These are the things I gave myself permission to do…

  1. Feel shitty. No more tough guy and suffering through it. When I feel like crap now, I acknowledge it and usually go to bed or get on the sofa to allow myself to heal.
  2. Worry. There’s a lot of stuff to worry about when you have cancer. And people who say, “Don’t worry. It will all be okay,” are generally full of shit and don’t really know that.
  3. Sleep. See number 1 above. Sleep is often the magic bullet to feeling shitty. 2020: the year of COVID, cancer and naps. Naps for the win!
  4. Share my feelings and be vulnerable. My wife and sister say I have gotten much better at this. They are both smarter than me, so I will take them at their word. I think this blog is partially to thank for this.
  5. Do what feels right for myself. At the end of the day, I had to own my own health and wellbeing.
  6. Be scared. This is like worrying on steroids.
  7. Accept and Trust. At some point I had to stop googling and reading about cancer. Second guessing everything was not helping. I had to trust my doctors and their decisions. I had to learn to accept help from others.
  8. Cry. Because even with permission to do all of the above, sometimes boys do need to cry.

Cancer, I’m going to stop short of thanking you for helping me grow as an individual. To be honest, a bilateral neck dissection and six weeks of daily radiation is a tough way to learn how to cry.

So in the end, “Fuck you”. I am still here, and I am using my new self to stand up to you, support others and hopefully leave the world a little better place than I found it.

To read this letter and the other letters to cancer, click here to read and download the June 2021 Magazine

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