A good piece about Susan Gubar’s small support group. I particularly liked the bit of their ‘rules’ and dealing with uncertainty.
Actually, there is another (unspoken) promise, namely that we perform acts of diligent attention when they are needed and without projecting our own watchwords or goals onto others. That means that if Judy must soon decide on whether or not to embark on a chemo-radiation “sandwich,” discussing her situation takes priority. If Alison’s doctor responds to a recurrence with surgery and Diane’s with a drug, we talk about it without formulating categorical rules about better and best. We strive for the condition of consciousness that the Romantic poet John Keats called “negative capability,” the psychological state of residing in “benign uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” We are as open to Patricia’s belief in healing hands as to Mary’s faith in CTs.
Because of cancer and its treatments, each of us has had to learn how to tolerate the painful confusion of uncertainty — not knowing why the cancer occurred, if or when or where it will recur, whether the treatment is working or how well. Since we don’t know ourselves, we certainly would not presume to judge the decisions or, for that matter, the lifestyles and values of others.
In other regards, of course, people with cancer are as different from each other as people without cancer. We need to make room for one person’s optimism, another’s fatalism. At times it is hard to keep the various case histories in mind. Which one was misdiagnosed for how long? Whose chemo resulted in kidney damage or neuropathies? What works for me might (or might not) work for you, we surmise.