Role Reversal

Learning how to rely on people when I had FBC (f-bomb breast cancer for new readers) was a brutal learning curve. As a nurse and social worker, I had always been the caregiver. And I liked it that way. Until my diagnosis, I had always been a do-it-yourselfer (except when it comes to craft projects). However, FBC had other plans for me because it sucked every bit of my ability to manage even the most meager of activities of daily living right out of me.

In addition to learning my own new post diagnosis role as a dependent, my family and friends also had new roles. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t just happen to you. It also happens to your family, friends and community. People who were directly or indirectly impacted by my illness – from my husband to my daughter’s teacher – sought to identify their roles in my treatment, to figure out what they could contribute to the experience.

Though it took some work, I knew that it was up to me to identify who would do what. For example, one friend organized food delivery (if not for me, then for my family). Another friend was the designated perker-upper by sending funny texts and emails everyday. Yet another friend took responsibility for Suddenly Seven and was on call for whenever we needed carpooling or play dates.

It was also up to me to identify who would NOT do what. For example, there were several people to whom Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men was speaking when he said, “You can’t handle the truth.” In other words, it freaked them out first that I (a healthy, athletic, young woman with no family history) was diagnosed with FBC and then that I became as sick as I did. Being around this type of energy was not exactly advantageous to my treatment process; therefore, I distanced myself from these people. Though it sounds harsh, when you’re as sick as I was, decision making is based on self-preservation.

On the other side of the spectrum, there were a few people who were “swoop and savers.” These were the self-appointed treatment police who sought to stand guard and criticize each and every aspect of the treatment. In response, I found myself saying, “Please don’t be my medical police. I need support, not criticism.” More self-preservation.

The ginormous Silver Linings were that until my diagnosis, I had never been able to say what I needed or to stand up for myself. Another beautiful Silver Lining was that I learned how to release control and relish in the beauty of being cared for.


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  1. velmaparker, pgh pa says

    Bless you, their is such a familiarity with your story and my life. Thank you for advising on how to accept others help, when you have always been the giver. People don't realize the joy we have as givers, but how painful and hard it is for us to be receivers, having gone through several major operations, not life threatening, but required my dependence on others, was a humbling experience. Once i came to accept that I too could be a receiver, the process was not easy, but more accepting. It ALLOWED OTHERS TO SEE MY VULNERABIITY AND THEIRS AS WELL. REJOICE IN YOUR HUMANE SELF, AND CONTINUE INGOOD HEALTH, EMOTIONALLY, SPIRITUALLY AND PHYSICALLY.