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Cancer is Crap: Talking About It

By Leanne Coppen July 2 2018

Rethink is proud to republish the original blog posts of Leanne Coppen first featured by Chatelaine. Leanne passed away in 2011 from metastatic breast cancer and we are honoured that her friends and family have allowed us to share her words here on the Rethink blog.

My life is still reverberating from the act of talking and writing about the idea of my own death.  Reverberating in a good way.  It feels like something happened to the weight and girth of the subject; like I can get my arms around it and shift it to a more comfortable place, instead of just feeling crushed by it.

When it was just in my head it was menacing and bullying – but when I talked about it with the people I love it turned out that my private hell was not mine alone.

My fears became our shared fears (sorry about that) which allowed us to feel like we could at least face them a little better because we were facing them together. It was the equivalent of throwing fear in the dryer for a couple of hours: shrinkage ensued.

And then, there we were, my parents and I, sitting on my bed one night talking about it again for maybe the third time in as many days, and not even crying that time.  Or, there I was, dropping it into a conversation almost casually: “…because if I die while Georgia is still really young I want to try to make sure she won’t turn it around and make it her own fault, the way kids think its their fault when their parents get divorced.”  And there I was, yes, blogging about it to the world at large.

(Okay, seriously, blogging about it…  Do you have any idea how naked I felt? It was like streaking through a stadium – although this little world of my blog actually seems far more intimate, so maybe it was more like streaking through a house party.  But, still.  I dare ya.)

It turns out that this unbroachable, unhappy, unfathomable topic is not so totally taboo after all.  I’m not saying I’ll be bandying it about at cocktail parties (“Nice to meet you. I’m afraid my cancer is going to kill me and I won’t get to live out my beautiful little life. Have you tried the stuffed mushrooms?”) I’m just saying it’s more manageable than I thought it would be.

And based on the feedback I’m getting, I’m beginning to think that talking about it has possibly made this nightmare a little less nightmarish for everyone else, too.

Talking about it means that it’s okay for people to think about it; they’re not betraying me or failing to have enough hope if the idea of losing me enters their minds.

Anyway, it feels like I travelled a long, long way last week, from a place of fear and darkness to a place with at least enough sunlight to keep a small houseplant going.  A huge part of it has to do with identifying a clinical trial and getting a plan for treatment underway. This is undeniably true. But I also attribute the return of my battle-scarred optimism about my chances of living to getting the subject of dying off my chest.

Who knew it would be so liberating?  And can I continue to address it without becoming a freaky goth person?  Because after the initial gruesome confrontation – after the first time I said the words out loud – it became easier and easier to talk about.  Which meant that it was no longer necessary to try not to think about it.  Which meant, paradoxically, that I and those around me thought about it less.

Like my friend Eden pointed out, it’s kind of a relief to be talking about it now when we don’t have to. Better we face it because we choose to and not because it’s being forced upon us.

In other words, I’m not dying – I’m just talking about it.