Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Cancer Survivor's View - The grass is always browner on the other side

Wow!! That's some brown grass.
I'm glad mine isn't that brown.
When I was going through chemotherapy and radiation, I often had to look internally for a pick up.  I had plenty of external support, probably more than, or at least as much as, most.  My wife and kids, my family, friends even my Doctor's throughout the whole process were telling me things were going great.  Sometimes, you just feel alone.  It's no ones fault.  That is just the way it is.  You tell me they are going great but I can't hear, taste, sleep, swallow, keep weight on or much more.  This vicious cycle has the potential to whittle away some of the positive attitude you brought in to the process with you.  How much more can a body take?  I found out that the body can take much more than mine went through,  if it had too.  As long as the mind enforces the fact that that this whole experience is temporary.  If it's six months or five years, there will be some times better than others and it will end.  This was especially true for me.  I was told, even before I started any treatments, that there would be a definite start and end to it.  There was a chance we would have to go further with more treatments but odds were it would be finished.  So what did I do to get me through, once my mind started getting taxed and frustrated?  I looked at the brown grass.

Sounds odd and even now thinking about it, it sounds very selfish.  But there is a point where you have to stop putting energy into pretending you are doing fine so everyone else is comfortable and just focus internally on what you have to do to get better.  Let me explain what I mean by "brown grass".  We all know the saying, the grass is always "greener" on the other side.  It implies that when you are having hard times, you look around you and see that other people are seemingly doing so much better than you.  That really seems to just get you down further, I never really understood that.  Here is how my "brown grass" theory works.

My radiation treatments were always at the same time.  Every day at 10:00 am.  As you can imagine many people have the same times for there appointments.  Maybe 9:45 or 10:15 but you start noticing the same people hanging out in the waiting room.  Over time, you make eye contact and smile, maybe strike up a conversation.  It's not too hard to strike up conversation, you know right off the bat that you have something in common.  One day, my wife and I were talking to Bill and his wife.  Bill had cancer in his neck too.  He was quite a few years older than I was and about three weeks ahead of me in treatments.  That means he had around fifteen more radiation treatments than I did at the time.  I was always amazed at how well Bill was doing.  He walked in every day, smiled at everyone and would strike up conversations.  He really seemed to be doing well.  Bill and I were talking about how things were changing physically for each of us.  I had a hard time hearing him because the chemo and radiation were doing a number on my hearing at that time.  I flat out told him, "Bill, you look like your doing great, but I can't really hear what you are saying."  In response Bill said, very loudly,  "Oh, that's OK that you can't hear me because I can't see you OR hear you."  When we realized we were both having similar issues, it struck us as funny and started laughing hysterically.

There was another guy I met, who was younger than Bill, probably just a few years older than me.  He was having a rough time because he always considered himself a 'Bull' in life. He was a real tough guy.  But the cancer treatments were really taking him down a notch.  The bull wasn't as tough as he initially thought.  None of us were.  But we were all getting through it.

Another friend, similar troubles and another and another.  But we were all getting through it somehow.  I realized, as bad as I felt other people were feeling just as bad (or worse) and they were getting through it, so I could too. "The grass is always browner on the other side,"  was born.  I may have been struggling through the experience, but to see Bill, the "Bull" and others struggling helped me realize I wasn't alone in my experience.  My hope is that by them seeing me struggle they could gain some strength from me as well.  I didn't care if they perceived me as doing 'worse' than they were.  In my perspective their brown grass helped me, but my brown grass was helping them too.

Over time we all lost touch with each other but I often think of them and how their lives are progressing. I only hope they are doing as well as I am.  It's time for the brown grass to turn green and give inspiration to others  in that way.

Have you dealt with getting through cancer treatments or any rough spots in your life?  How did you get through it, did you look to others with a similar situation and draw strength from them?


  1. It always gives me a sense of peace and a feeling of resolve when I see others going through difficult times that are similar to my own. A feeling that "if they can get through it, so can I". Obviously I have never had to go through anything as difficult as you did with cancer treatments, but I think this concept can help people through even minor difficulties in life. You can gain strength and resolve from others who are dealing with hardships and still moving forward and living their lives. I have enjoyed your blog and your 'take' on life, John! Thanks for sharing!

    Kim L.

  2. I agree Kim. They can give us strength and then we give others strength. A lot of times we don't even realize this dynamic is happening.
    Thanks for the great comment Kim!!

  3. I love that you and Bill were able to find humor...even in one of the worst situations possible. I know I've told you this many times...and here it is again, I truly enjoy reading your blog...I'm always either laughing or crying...or both! Thanks for sharing John...

  4. It's weird where you can find humor sometimes. That's probably part of what makes us human. But what do I know? :)

    I'm glad I can make you laugh and cry!!