Hurt People Hurt People

I’ve written before about the horrifying reality that there are those people who pretend to have cancer, even metastatic cancer. You can read about those previous experiences here. That was quite a while ago and happened when I was relatively new to Stage IV metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and the culture within that community (also not a static thing). Those experiences really shook me to my core and changed the way I look at others; it put me on notice, I suppose, that I needed to be more careful, to ask more questions.

Some time has passed.

At various points between then and now, accusations would be brought out about one person or another. I wasn’t always privy to the accusations, just saw that the targeted person or persons all of a sudden started posting pictures of scans or letters or some other sort of “proof” that they really had MBC. Sadly, each of those women died either because of MBC or complications from the treatment they each endured, believing and experiencing the derision of some. I’ve not personally been closely connected to or heard anything that would make me think anyone else was faking cancer since those initial experiences I wrote about, but I have heard a lot of stories about people in the MBC Community who were confronted and accused of not having MBC and demanding proof.

As if anyone has the “right” to demand proof of an illness.

Let me take two steps back to say that I believe we all need to be on our guard about those who might be pretending, who might be taking advantage of others. We, as a community, do need to police our own to a certain extent. Yet, that then begs the question — who does the policing? Who are the arbiters of truth? What standard of proof (a legal term) is utilized when determining whether someone is faking?

As I discussed in my earlier post, I’ve become more wary of those who claim to be part of the unique group of people who grapple with a terminal diagnosis. I watch and I lurk a lot when a new face shows up, especially when that person begins to get very involved in advocacy efforts. I delve into the words they use, asking questions as needed. The saying, “trust but verify,” should probably be engraved on my tombstone since that’s literally how I lead my life in a lot of contexts.

Recently, another member of the larger MBC Community has been accused of faking her diagnosis. I can’t say that I’m privy to all of the interactions or factors that have caused some to conclude that she isn’t honest about her diagnosis, among some other issues, but I have read a lot about the accusations, asking questions and attempting to understand. The underlying thread, I believe, in all of these conversations is that no person can know for sure what is going on inside someone else’s life and body. Not really. Not 100%. We all show what we want on social media.

But here’s another factor — people who are hurting, who are upset, who are triggered, aren’t at their best.

I’m definitely not at my best when I’m hurting and upset. The ability to see any situation from anyone else’s perspective is compromised and what appears to be a “fact” or “proof” can be misinterpreted. As someone who relies on legally admissible facts rather than my gut reactions, this is hard for me. Also, people who are hurting, who are upset, not only lose the ability to see a situation from anyone else’s perspective, but also lose the ability to see that we will all experience this life with MBC differently and respond differently because we are all unique human beings; just because one person deals with trauma in a way that seems odd or different or even wrong to another person doesn’t mean either person is right.

I’ve been there and we all have our triggers. Watching others support and give money to a person who turns out to be a fake is HUGELY triggering and one reason I typically don’t. Also, my banker husband is probably more suspicious than I and we both prefer to support others differently. When I’ve been involved with supporting someone directly, I’ve typically tried to pay a third party directly — like a landlord or electricity company.

Bottom line?

We are all different, unique human beings. We will not all see eye to eye. We will not all be on the same page at any given time. We will each respond in a unique way to a trauma like MBC or another health issue. We each have different experiences and different circumstances. We each approach dealing with trauma differently. We are each entitled to our own opinions and to withdraw from relationships with others as we deem appropriate. We are each entitled to put our resources where we believe to be correct or best and to share that information with those around us.

A line is crossed, to me, when a private conflict becomes public and people who have/had no part in the conflict are involved. I realize that not everyone will agree. I believe that we cause more damage to individuals when conflicts are taken to a wider community than was involved or privy to the actual conflict. It may be archaic, but I believe in the steps to resolve issues laid out in Matthew 18, that it is incumbent upon us to resolve issues individually by asking questions; if that doesn’t work, then pull in a few people who are trusted by all concerned, not friends, people who the person “at fault” trusts as much as the accuser; if that second step isn’t successful, then a wider community may need to be informed.

At the end of the day, once a conflict has been addressed and perhaps the original parties have parted ways or withdrawn back to their “corners,” then the issue or conflict needs to not be a topic of conversation. To continue fighting a conflict based on differences of opinions within the wider context of a community or group of people is only going to hurt everyone. And hurt people do hurt people. This is human nature, this is how we are wired and it is HARD to overcome our defaults.

The better way, I believe, is to practice empathy, to practice compassion, to practice believing the best, to practice how we would want to be treated and to seek to understand before being understood; and I’m saying that to myself just as much as anyone else.

14 thoughts on “Hurt People Hurt People

  1. “Trust but verify”; I like that.

    I once had a colleague who had a number of health conditions. I can’t remember all of the details now, but one story went something like this: She was boarding a plane and she had something with her to assist her (a dog, some sort of ambulatory device…? sorry, my memory is lacking). Anyway, whatever the circumstance was, they didn’t believe she was sick. Reason? “You don’t look sick.” Oh, she was livid. I believe an attorney was on the flight near her, ready to back her up, until they finally relented. Story popped into my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This of us with an invisible illness often struggle with these types of responses. I remember when I went to get my handicapped plaque. I couldn’t walk without crazy pain and was so easily fatigued. My doc signed me up so that when I transported my kids I wouldn’t have to walk so far in the parking lot, endangering them and me. They were 2 and 4. The lady who took my application was pretty obviously skeptical but prohibited from asking. I launched into the entire story of my diagnosis, showing her all the scars from my surgeries. It worked out but I’m never sure when I talk to people how they will react.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That sounds like an impromptu “show and tell”. Sometimes I think it can be the same with younger people who are really ill or who are struggling. I’ve heard comments like “you’re too young to be so tired” (as in grow up, or things like that. I knew someone in college who was diagnosed with cancer her senior year; another friend with MS (which has flareups)…It’s an interesting topic to chew on.

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  2. Hi Abigail, This is a great post! Awareness and education is powerful. In our family we have faced other serious illnesses. Even then, people are judgy and come up with trite remedies. An undercurrent or overt not believing. A wonderful Beecher quote for many parts of our life. You make a great point about empathy and compassion!

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  3. Abigail – I try to live by what Plato’s quote so precisely points out. And have always even prior to my mbc diagnosis, lived in the manner of “there but for the grace of god go I.” And years ago I was with my youngest stepson out to go grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Out front sat a man, probably 45 or so, looking very tired and very sick. He sat at a table with flyers from Cancer CAREPoint, information on colorectal cancer screening, the colonoscopy he’d put off because he was just too busy at work. Now, in the throes of iv chemotherapy which he was having a hard time getting enough money together to underwrite his own private insurance; he hadn’t yet reached the two years mark for Medicare eligibility. He hadn’t any money left over for food, utilities and rent because disability only goes so far. In the state of California it barely pays for the costs associated with medical care if you’ve got cancer. Stage 4 cancer specifically when you cannot go back to work lest lose the little we do get if we aren’t lucky enough to be married to a provider who will keep a roof over your head, but even that comes at a high price for some of us. I gave the man my last 20 dollar bill and bought him two bug bags of healthy groceries. He thanked me and I tried hard not to make a big deal. It was enough he even had to be reduced to public funding behind a table, looking like he just wanted to go home and crawl under a rock. My son said “how do you know he’s not lying? What if he doesn’t have cancer?” I explained that if he didn’t he would have to live with his guilt and taking a woman’s money and gift would be wrong of him. I explained that either way, there but for the grace of God go I and what it really meant.

    I’m painfully aware of being on the other side of the belied table when my own stepsister said that there was no such thing as pill form chemotherapy and I was clearly faking my illness. So the event of which you speak is one I handled privately with that person and tried to tell her she owed no one proof of her diagnosis and that by lashing out and playing into the hands of this kind of “mean girl” bullying she was only underscoring her accusers by seeming defensive. If it were me I would have had no part in this and blocked the individuals from all my social media accounts and dropped out of closed unmediated Facebook and other groups. But as you say hurt people hurt people. They are stinging and upset and want to lash out.

    It’s not as though the slings and arrows shot at us hurt any less. This disease brings so much pain and so much isolation and uncertainty I’d not think one could fake the emotional collateral damage. The point is, if someone really wants to gain sympathy for what’s not true the facade can only last so long. We have a language within our community and they won’t be able to keep up with the longer conversation because it’s not true and they’ll just fade away with time and their own guilt.

    Much love

    Liked by 1 person

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