Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Meeting Expectations

I had my 3-weekly Herceptin treatment today, so I expect to be up all night. Insomnia is one of the side-effects of the drug. So I guess I’m not superhuman enough to be immune to ALL side effects, after all.

I ran into a fellow breast cancer patient at the oncologist’s office. She said she was feeling depressed and reacting very badly to chemotherapy. I thought she looked and sounded pretty strong so I told her so. I told her I have faith that she’ll come out of this with her strength and spirit in tact. I don’t know if she thinks I’m just being nice, but I don’t think anyone should underestimate the power of encouraging words.

I’m a skeptic about everything, so when friends and family say encouraging things to me (some of it cliche, some of it not even that convincing), I smile, thank them, and tell myself they’re just trying to be nice, but they’re optimistic because they have no idea just how bad my prognosis is or how bad it could get. But after hearing so many people tell me how well I look and how sure they are that I’ll beat cancer, my skepticism starts to wear thin and I find myself thinking that I’ll survive just to meet everyone’s expectations. Everyone tells me I’m going to beat it. I can’t let them down, can I?

A friend sent me a story about a man who suffers one misfortune after another and each time, he says that he faces a choice -- either wallow in sorrow and anger, or put a positive spin on it and get on with life. He chooses the latter and overcomes every horrible thing that comes his way with optimism. My friend mass-mailed this story to a bunch of people and added a note saying, “This is what Shin shows us everyday.” How can I be any other way when this is what people expect from me? And when I start to feel down, I tell myself that I can’t disappoint them. Forget about how I feel; what about all those people who are expecting me to be strong, cheerful, and brave? The thought of letting everyone down is sometimes worse than my own fear and misery.

I think we often meet the expectations of people around us, be they high or low. If your teachers and parents think you’ll amount to nothing, chances are you won’t. If they’re convinced you’ll be a success and convince you of it, then chances are you’ll be a success (however you define that term). I think if my doctors kept telling me I wasn’t going to last and my family and friends acted like I was dying, I wouldn’t last as long. But it doesn’t seem like anyone who knows me is thinking I’m going to die any day soon, even those close friends who have done the research and know what the statistics say. They might just be putting on the optimism for my sake, or for their own sake. But even then, it’s working. Faking optimism slowly becomes true optimism, until you realize one day that you don’t have to fake it anymore.

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