There are some small amusements
Though at first they're hard to see
Like fluffing up my fiberfill
To make it look like me.
I have an empty pocket now
To store important things
Like passports and my credit cards
Or maybe diamond rings.
And there are times I have to smile
When people glance my way.
They stare and then get flustered—
They aren't sure what to say.
And once I had to chuckle as
A mirror I passed by.
My fluffy was off to the side
Its nipple much too high.
And exercise can bring a laugh
When I go out to trot.
One side is jogging with me—
The other side is not.
There are some small amusements,
But I find them very small.
And sometimes giggles turn to tears
And I can’t laugh at all...
I have looked at my mortality
Somehow that glimpse closes the gap
Between the here-and-now
And the once far-distant
Edge of tomorrow
It erases the perceived boundary
Between “if” and “when”
Time that once stretched endlessly
Like an old rubber band
I have always know that life is terminal—
But I did not understand it
Quite so well
You Will Be Just Fine
Please do not trivialize
You who are healthy
You whose mortality is as yet
Only dimly perceived—
Please do not say
“You will be just fine.”
I may well be—someday—
But I do not know...
You do not know...
A Reflection on Positive Thinking
My friend Jack has faced many hardships over the course of his
life. He has learned to cope by deciding that reality is only
what you perceive it to be. The problem is that he has difficulty
accepting the fact that other people do not always perceive reality
the same way he does.
His commitment to positive thinking is certainly sincere, but
sometimes he sabotages the effort of others to work through their
pain in their own ways. Rather than trying to help people deal
with their honest emotions, he sometimes refuses even to acknowledge
People often charge cancer (and other) patients to “think
positively.” Meaning well, some even give us books that
become oppressive with hints that we are responsible for becoming
ill and for getting well again.
I have had several friends who heard and read similar things
and who worked very hard to maintain an optimistic attitude in
the face of some very discouraging facts. Eventually they all
died—each having to deal with more than a destroyed body.
I admired their courage, but felt very sad that they bore this
Sometimes when I tried to break through the barrier, to get them
to talk about what they were really thinking and feeling, they
seemed afraid to even mention the possibility of not getting well,
as though that would be a jinx.
Did they think they were causing their illness? Did they blame
themselves for not thinking positively enough?
I believe there is a mind-body connection. Our attitudes certainly
affect the quality of our lives. I very much believe in living
in a positive way. My game plan has been to carry on my life,
continue as much of my teaching and writing as possible, enjoy
every moment I can.
But I also believe in reality. And regardless of what the best
approach might be for others, I have found that facing limitations,
accepting them, and working around them has helped me
It works out better some days than others.
A Reflection on Commitment
Breast cancer is hard on the men in our lives. They must deal
not only with the fear of losing us, but also with the tedium
and trauma of treatments and our shifting moods as we confront
our mortality. We often pull away from them
because we cannot bear the possibility of rejection.
They must also deal with anger—ours as well as their own.
They may be angry at feeling afraid we will die, angry at having
their lives disrupted, but, perhaps most of all, angry at standards
which say a man should not share his feelings with anyone—let
alone a wife who is ill.
They respond to the challenge in various ways—some not
Some men could not be more caring—accompanying us to treatments
and consultations, seeing past our shrillness to the underlying
fears, and cooking dinner when life is more than we can bear.
Les told me that the husband of another cancer patient recently
asked him, “How do you cope when your wife becomes irritable?”
Les responded, “It's difficult sometimes, but I try to understand
the reason for it.”
Some men become impatient and want to get back to life as usual:
“You've had your surgery. You've finished your treatment.
Now let's get back to normal!”
Sometimes conflicts arise from different ways of coping. One husband
shared with Les his despair that when he expressed a desire to
make love, his wife retorted, “I'm thinking about death—and
you're thinking about sex?” She didn't understand
his need for intimacy, and he didn't understand her fear of mortality.
Some men were never attached emotionally at all. Others withdraw
emotionally when they can no longer bear to watch our suffering
or when the fear of loss becomes unmanageable.
And some men respond the way the husband of one of my friends
did. One day he simply announced, “You have totally worn
me out with your surgeries and treatments.” Then he packed
his bags and left.
Some of the women in my cancer support group have said they cannot
imagine coping with cancer without a supportive man in their lives.
Others have said they are grateful they only have to worry about
themselves. I am sure that sometimes it would be easier to cope
without having to consider the feelings and needs of a mate, but
I feel fortunate that Les has been so supportive.
There is no question that breast cancer is a crisis in most relationships.
It magnifies the strengths and weaknesses that already exist.
Les and I have always invested a lot of effort in our marriage.
We realize we have to invest more in it now, but neither of us
regrets that choice. We try to be as honest with each other as
we are with ourselves. We talk openly about our fears and our
needs. If one of us has been unable to sleep, we share our worries
the next day.
In many ways it is more difficult to watch the person you love
suffer than to suffer yourself. I know that even when I sleep
soundly at night, Les often wakes up in the wee hours and worries.
Excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing
Cancer, Fear and Loneliness by Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad.
Copyright © 1993, 2003 by Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad. Excerpted
by arrangement with Mulberry Hill Press. All rights reserved.
$15.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800.294.4714 or