Monday, July 10, 2006

July 9, 2006 - How Are You? (2)

Back on December 23, I wrote a journal entry called, “How Are You?” I was newly diagnosed at the time, and was struggling with how to answer that question, as it came up in casual conversation. Most people who ask how we are don’t really want a full-blown answer. Should I answer the question completely and truthfully, sharing the whole burden of my diagnosis? Or should I treat the question like the social pleasantry it is, and simply say I’m OK?

Today’s Sunday, and a certain number of worshipers pause at the church door to ask me the same question. Today, the answer’s a good bit easier to give: I’m in remission, and I’m feeling pretty good – although not quite back to my full energy level. (By most accounts, cancer fatigue takes several months to dissipate, following chemotherapy – so, I’m right on track.)

The question feels very different, today, than it did back in December. Back then, folks were only just learning of my diagnosis. To describe how I was feeling, in any detail, was to drop a rather large emotional bombshell on an unsuspecting victim. Yet, this morning, the people who inquire into my health already know I’ve got cancer. They also know I’m finished with my treatments. They’re just looking for some reassurance that progress is continuing.

Well, it is – and it's easy to tell them so. It's just not so easy to speak, these days, of passing particular milestones. Back when I was receiving chemo treatments, I could tell people with some precision where I was, within each 3-week cycle. Now, as the days of remission stretch on into the future, each day is not all that different from the day before. I know I'm continuing to make progress, but the changes are so incremental, it's hard to discern them.

I've used the analogy, before, of an old-fashioned sailing ship at sea. In keeping his log, the ship's captain would talk of landmarks sighted, while sailing close to shore. Things were different during the long ocean crossing. The vista from the quarterdeck remained featureless. The only indications of progress were the daily sextant readings and the record of "the log" – that chunk of wood on a rope, that a midshipman would cast overboard and time, as it drifted back towards the stern.

I'm not so introspective, myself, that I'm inclined to make a daily inventory of how I'm feeling, through these latter days of recovery. And so, the answer to the "How are you?" question is becoming more and more of a social pleasantry.

I'm still not quite used to that. I feel like I ought to have more to say. Most days, I don't – and that's a good thing.


ReverendKathryn said...

The "How are you?" question has been a challenge for my ministry as well. It is a cultural question that rolls off my tongue as I am a Maritimer (Eastern Canada). We ask "Hi. how are you?" as a greeting. Sometimes, it is in passing, sometimes in concern.
True, you were talking about your personal struggle with how/what to answer.. It brought to mind one of the first clients/residents I had in my Clinical chaplaincy training. One of my residents said to me..."do you really want to know?" I remember telling her, "of course I do, I wouldn't ask if I didn't mean it". I suppose you have to discern between the people that "mean" it and those who throw it out in passing.
I imagine it is hard to minister and be ministered to in your illness/remission and thus it is hard at times to answer such a question. Blessings to you on this journey.

Carlos ("Carl") said...

Thanks, Kathryn. I've visited your blog, and will do so again.

Ah, CPE. I remember it well, even though it was more than 25 years ago, for me. (For the theologically-unitiated, that stands for "Clinical Pastoral Education" - an on-the-job, clinical counseling internship for ministers and ministers-to-be.)

I found it quite an undertaking, at the time, just to get in touch with my feelings, let alone to voice them. It's a lifelong journey, for all of us.