how are you feeling?

Instead of saying “How are you?” or “How was your day?”, well-meaning friends and acquaintances have increasingly been asking me, “How are you feeling?”

It always throws me off.

First, it’s a question my doctors usually ask. So I have to remember who i’m talking to (not a doctor), and how much detail they want. Probably not how many bowel movements I had that day or whether my white blood cell counts are in the normal range (they are now, thank you, and i’m back on my chemo).

Then, I try to recall my automatic answer for that question, and I realize that I have none. The question comes from a thoughtful place, a place of wanting to acknowledge that they care about my health and that they’re not afraid to talk to me about it, I think, and it deserves more than the throwaway answer I would give the other questions (“Good.” and “Fine,” respectively).

Then, I wonder, am I supposed to not be feeling OK? Yes, I have cancer, so technically, i’m sick. And yes, i’m on chemo, which can make me sick. And no, no life insurance company would ever give me life insurance. But isn’t it obvious, considering that i’m blogging all the time and going about my business and exercising and continuing my vegan diet trial, that i’m feeling fine?

Then I get a little annoyed. Am I not doing enough to make people understand that having cancer isn’t only about losing one’s hair and being tired all the time and having six months to live? Cancer can be about one or two or all of these things for some people, but for me, it’s not about any of these things. Cancer is about minor annoyances like getting my blood drawn frequently, getting a shot every month, taking my chemo pills when i’m supposed to; it’s about major annoyances like organizing appointments and health insurance and bills; it’s about fear for what lies ahead and for a liver transplant. Clearly I am, at the moment, not sick in the same way that some other people with cancer are sick. At the moment, I am feeling fine, thank you, and if I was ever not feeling fine, then you would probably know about it. Because I would be in the hospital, or i’d be in bed, or I wouldn’t feel like talking, or i’d be sitting out my normal activities, or I wouldn’t be eating.

Then I think, maybe the person meant emotionally–and not physically. My emotional state goes up and down faster than my physical wellness. How am I feeling emotionally? I don’t know. Annoyed, perpetually, at my insurance and the health care system. Disorganized. Consumed by the thought of a transplant. Unsettled.

“Good.” “Fine.”

It’s amazing how cancer can ruin even the simplest of questions. It’s amazing how cancer can ruin almost everything. I was thinking about this while I was watching Crazy Sexy Cancer┬álast week. Why is it such a big deal? Why has it sparked thousands of organizations and blogs and books and documentaries and movies? It’s just a stupid disease–why is it everywhere? Why did I let it change me? Over and over again I can say that I think it changed me and the way I live my life for the better–but would I choose it?

No.

Would anyone choose it? Probably not. Is there anything I can do about it?

No.

“How are you feeling now?”

Sad. And tired of thinking.

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4 Responses to how are you feeling?

  1. Maybe sometimes we just have to live and stop thinking deeply too much about life. It is about simplifying things. I think we have the tendency to focus too much on the bad things, the outcome of this habit only make ourselves feel bad.
    I truly believe there is always a bright side, a better future ahead of us. It is a matter of an everyday work, teaching our minds to think positive. This helped me overcome a lot of problems, even the physical ones. I’m not saying this is the answer to your problems, Lindsey… don’t get me wrong. You have such a beautiful smile, so why not try to show it more often to your friends and loved ones? Maybe everyone around you expect you to be afraid, in pain and sad because of the disease… But your life doesn’t need to be ONLY about cancer. I know cancer, treatment and insurance matters are boring and end up stealing a lot of time and effort, but try to focus on the good moments of your life, remember to enjoy even the small things.
    I think people see you and treat you the way you see and treat yourself.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to teach anybody anything… I’m just sharing a thought.
    Sorry about any english’s mistake, as my mother language is brazilian portuguese.
    I always love to read your posts!
    All the good energy from Brazil to you, Lindsey.

  2. kristin says:

    Thanks for this post. It summed up a lot of things that roll around in my head sometimes. It’s crazy how a seemingly simple, well-intentioned question can cause so much internal anguish (short term, and long term).

  3. Jean Farmer says:

    Yes – THANKS for this post. I have gotten to the point that I ignore the intent of the “How are you feeling” question and just say “Great!” with a big smile. If they want me to say something about my cancer, they’ll have to be more blunt. Because I try to fake it til I make it – keep acting positive so that I can start to FEEL positive. The happy, positive feelings can help make me and keep me well. Good feelings to you, Lindsey! From the east coast.

  4. Lini says:

    Like you, I have become so accustomed to giving that typical reply, “Good,” every time someone asks me that question. Even if I’m feeling terrible, I always unconsciously give them the same response. Usually it’s a cashier asking me that question, and I feel like most of them don’t want to hear about someone’s bad day, so I just keep my reply short and positive. I guess it’s the easiest way to avoid having to explain what’s wrong. I don’t think it’s necessary to open up to complete strangers, but I do think it’s important to be open and honest with doctors, family members, and close friends. They’re here to help us get through tough times.

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