Don’t pit depression against cancer

Just now I saw this video on Upworthy about how one would never put down a person with cancer. Never say they were dragging others down. Never call a cancer patient’s problems an unending series of “pity parties”. Then why do people do that with a person suffering depression.

A beautiful, meaningful video dealing with an important subject. Yet, somehow, it left me slightly agitated. You see, I was diagnosed with cancer around this time last year. And I have spent months weighing every word I said, sometimes even actions and gestures, afraid someone would think I was making everything about me.

The fact is anyone suffering any long-term disease probably suffers such anxiety, may be because in some ways or the other our society lacks time and space for such people.

But more than that there is an odd sense of guilt associated with getting cancer.

A well-meaning acquaintance on meeting me during the course of my treatment told me, “When I heard you got cancer I thought it must be lung cancer. After all, you smoked.” Yes, I did. And no I didn’t get lung cancer. Further, my cancer had nothing to do with smoking. It was found to be caused by a genetic mutation.

Another acquaintance, on being told about the mutation, which comes down from my mother, a woman who has led an excruciatingly simple life, said, “Cancer doesn’t work like that. It is not a hereditary disease.” I found myself shrinking a little from the lady’s tone and tenor.

I count myself among one of the most blessed people, given the completely beautiful people who surround me. A boyfriend who stood by me like a rock, made me feel beautiful at a time when I avoided looking at the mirror as much as possible. A mother who pulled herself out of depression to take care of me. Two sisters whose strength I could feel through the miles shortened by Skype. A father who was just there, simply there for anything and everything. Friends who would pop up ‘just because’.

Yet, I know of others who weren’t as fortunate. Whose boyfriends left them in the middle of chemo because ‘it was too stressful’. Whose friends avoided them. Whose husbands and wives left them because ‘they weren’t attracted to them anymore’. Parents who felt they couldn’t live their lives around cancer patients. Siblings who thought they were taking up al; the attention.

There is an unsaid pressure on cancer patients to be “normal”. If anyone could tell me what normal is I would be grateful. I have seen colleagues ho and hum about how ill they were with flu. And here I was trying to make puns about being two-paet (stomach) after the first mid-line surgery gave me a scar right down the centre of my abdomen; about starting my ‘bald chronicles’; about taking stairs like an old person. Laughing about living with cancer seemed to be the only defense mechanism I had. But, by jove, none of should feel the need to be defensive. It is hard enough otherwise.

Depression is real. It is scary. I have seen someone very close suffering and spiraling into that abyss. It was perhaps the most helpless I have ever felt. But don’t compare it to another disease in the misguided idea that ‘one doesn’t talk like that to a cancer patient’. Because they do. Don’t belittle the struggles faced by everyone else, because truth is while most people are just wonderful, the ones who aren’t don’t step down their game for anyone.

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