Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Illness and Shame And Dropping the C-Bomb

First, if you're here from Mary's or Jaimie's, thank you and welcome!  Second, if you're here from Facebook, well, you're probably like "What the heck?!?!?".  I know, this whole pregnant with lymphoma situation is all kinds of weird.  All. kinds. of. WEIRD.  Sorry I dropped the C-bomb on you.

That's what it's like to tell people you have cancer.  It's like dropping a bomb on them in slow motion face to face (or keyboard to keyboard-- 'cause those is just the times we livin' in).  As the person with the cancer, by the time you're ready to tell someone, you've had some time to let things marinate.  Even if it's just been a short time, you're ahead of the poor sucker you're about to blind side.  To say that it is a painful, uncomfortable, and awkward news item to share is a huge understatement.  That's what makes avoiding the sharing so enticing.  It's not fun to tell someone bad news.

The problem with not telling people you have cancer and are going through chemo while you are pregnant is that you run the risk of bumping into some unsuspecting person you haven't seen in like 5 years and there you are--9 months pregnant with a bald head--talk about blindsiding!  My hair didn't fall out yet (YAY!), but I'm a ticking hair ball.  I'll have a wig, but I'm pretty lazy and I could see myself at some point deciding a scarf is just going to have to do, and even if I do wear my wig, what if I'm terrible at drawing my eyebrows back on?  What if I'm doomed to spend my treatment having to choose between having no eyebrows or looking like Uncle Leo?  Anyhoo, point is, sometime soon, my treatment will force the issue of telling people, because my bald head and/or lack of eyebrows will do the talking.  Plus, really, what is the big deal with telling people?  There's no shame in being sick.  Except that there is.

I remember as a little girl hearing Bible stories featuring people who were sick.  The priest explained during the homily that back in Biblical times people were ashamed of family members who fell ill.  It was considered an indication of some sin or curse on the part of the sick person or their family.  In cultures around the world, across time, we have been ashamed of illness.  I remember thinking: "Thank goodness we've come so far and that now we have science to tell us that illness is caused by germs, undernourishment, chemical imbalances, etc.".  Now that I'm faced with an illness, I realize we haven't really come that far at all.  Now that I'm sick and I have to tell people, I realize that even though we know it's not a curse or a moral sin that caused our illness, we still recoil from admitting it.  We are ashamed of admitting we are guilty of some of the greatest sins of modern times: weakness and imperfection.  Well, here I am.  I am weak.  I am imperfect.  We all are.

We humans, we like to think we are so smart that we can control our way to perfection.  That we can choose a diet and an exercise plan and a career and a family size and balance for our bank account that will trump our inherent weakness and imperfection.  That if we just make all the right choices we will never suffer.  The problem with this idea is that there will always be some "more perfect" choice for us to chase.  Something we try to tell ourselves will protect us from our humanity:  "You eat white bread?  You should really eat whole grain.  You eat store bought whole grain?  You should really eat homemade whole grain.  You eat homemade whole grain?  It should really be soaked. You eat soaked whole grain?  It should really be sprouted.  You eat sprouted whole grain?  Grain can kill you, have fun suffering through your short pitiful life.".  We can continue that for every choice that presents itself throughout our lives, and when we or a family member end up sick, we can beat ourselves up that we didn't make a perfect choice, or we can admit that we are weak and imperfect.  We all have to strive to make the best choices we can to be good stewards of what we've been given, but we must also face that we are and will always be inherently weak and imperfect.

You know who else is weak?  My daughter.  The one who is growing inside me right now, oblivious to the toxic onslaught she endures every 2 weeks.  The one who continues to thrive despite it.  The one who many believe is not possible, but who is so very possible.  She is more than possible.  She is.  In the end, I cannot hide the fact that I have cancer because I'm ashamed to admit that I am weak and imperfect.  I have a responsibility to my human family to say I am weak and imperfect and so are you and that's ok.  I have a responsibility to other Mothers and other babies to let them know that you can have cancer and be pregnant and be ok.  You can both survive and thrive.  It's important to me that people understand this.  So I will expose my weakness, my imperfection, the consequences of my mistakes.  I will tell you I have cancer.  I have cancer and I am pregnant and we will both be just fine.  We will be weak and imperfect and just fine.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9


  1. She (baby team pink) is beautiful and so are you! Your words will change lives.

  2. Wow, very powerful stuff. I'm so happy you decided to do this because it has been killing me trying to think of a way to reach out to you & let you know I've been thinking of you a lot & praying for your safety. I had no idea how to approach the situation & am aware of my inability to hold it together in situations like this. I just want you to know I think you are a truely amazing person, one of the very best I have the privilege of calling a friend & I'm here for You with what ever support I can offer (even if it is just helping you draw on those eyebrows) I love you & am very proud of you.

  3. Nella, you are not only inspiring, but a great writer. It's also very generous of you to put it all out there for us to read. You are making a gift of yourself in so many ways. Its a privilege to know you, it really is.

  4. Nella, you are not only inspiring, but a great writer. It's also very generous of you to put it all out there for us to read. You are making a gift of yourself in so many ways. Its a privilege to know you, it really is.

  5. Nella,
    can I just say I am both proud and honored to be you facebook wife! when you dropped the "C-bomb" on facebook I can not lie, I was crushed and cried. But I do love reading your blogs and I know your exact voice and mannerisms and you are truly an amazing person, that we all can learn from. Your life and wisdom has always inspired me, from being coached on RGC, to the blurb you wrote for the book I made Katie, now to this. I know you will survive this and come out on top and just have more amazing stories to share.
    ....And one more thing, if you need help drawing in your eyebrows I have experience with a unibrow.


  6. Thank you Janelle! I'm glad you offered your eyebrow help, 2 separate eyebrows may have been hampering my ability to properly express myself. Love you!


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