This past week I was one of about 5 people receiving an email from my eldest uncle.  Its contents were pretty straightforward; blunt is an understatement.  The communication informed the recipients that his bladder cancer had returned.  More so, he added that his original understanding of the diagnosis, received much earlier in the year, was incorrect and rather than having a “mild” form, his was one of the most aggressive forms.

He went on to say it was common for it to return in 2/3rds or more of those afflicted, adding, aggressive steps were being taken to address the situation.  What makes this declaration worth discussing is that later I learned from my cousin, his only daughter, that she learned of the change in events from the email.  Needless to say she was upset with the manner of conveyance and her reaction made me think of the whole matter of how the affected person must “manage” those around them – their reactions, feelings and their perceptions.  In my case I often found myself filtering information, regulating that which I conveyed and providing comfort to those around me.  In some ways I think this an added burden to the affected and raising the question of whether it is incumbent upon the afflicted to “manage” the feelings of other, to “ease them into a zone of acceptance and to comfort them.

With his original diagnosis he received some form of treatment where they filled his bladder with some liquid, I presume radioactive, capable of destroying the cancer.  I would like to have greater clarity on exactly what it was, but the majority of my family are not terrible inquisitive and somewhat dogmatic with their acceptance of doctor’s actions.  The difference now is his surgery is scheduled just before Christmas – presumptively underscoring the seriousness of the threat.  In offering this description I delineate the seriousness of his circumstance, not that all cancer isn’t serious, but simply recognizing some forms are more life threatening than others.  It is clear that with my uncle, his cancer is serious and based on his description, eminently life threatening.

So, how does this relate to managing those around us?  How does it affect the affected who are already burdened with the whole of their illness?  For me, it was a matter of recognition that the release of information need be moderated and channeled differently for different people.  In my uncle’s case, his use of an email to inform those close to him while expedient, lacked sensitivity to the majority of the recipients, particularly his daughter.  While I understand why he chose the email; he was pressed for time and it was fast and simple.  That he didn’t call his daughter was simply a matter of his viewing this as a need to distribute information and nothing more.  As an ex-marine whose generation is less sensitive to sensitivities, I’m certain he saw this as simply a matter of pragmatics.

For me there were, and continues to be, a number of dimensions of sensitivity to those around me.  I too sometimes find it burdensome to mitigate the realities of my situation when discussing it with those in my world.  However, while for the most part I think nothing such mitigation, there are times when doing so denies me of my need to recognize the enormity of my disease and its progression.  Sometimes I think those around me are unable to accept the realities, looking beyond themselves to recognize my needs – my occasional need to release and acknowledge the path to which I’ve been directed.  Most of the time I think it is my acceptance of my disease that allows me to help those in my life to process it, to feel safe in acknowledging it and to recognize that while hope need not be lost, it is ok to recognize the probabilities.

In some ways, I think it possible my uncle is in a place where he is still unable to grasp the course of events and to those around him I would say to give him space, space that he may not know he needs or that he doesn’t know how to make.  In my situation, physical distance afforded me the ability to take that space and better control the release of information.  Perhaps this is a personal need, but actually, I think it is more global and part of a process the afflicted must traverse in order to achieve the peace necessary to move through the myriad travails we face.  It may also be that those in his world, as was the case in mine, need space and time to assimilate the circumstance.  Perhaps it is this process that prepares us for the journey to whatever the providence holds for us.

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