Within the support groups that I attend and moderate, we often talk about coping; about living with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) and how we do that. Sometimes I despair about how verbiage just doesn’t match the MBC experience since it cannot fully describe the highs and lows that we all experience at one time or another. No label can provide a full picture of what we live with every single day.
And yet, we do need language.
Language helps us to explain how we feel, it can help us to feel seen in our experiences, and when our experiences and emotions about something match, we are moving towards health mentally. While I still hear that some oncology teams don’t include mental health support, the trend seems to be moving somewhat towards ensuring that the whole person is supported, not just the physical aspect. We are, after all, as humans made of mind, body and spirit — to be healthy, all three have to be addressed.
As I often do, as I thought about this post, I started with looking up the definition of “coping” …
“to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties —often used with with“https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cope
And here’s where I just can’t reconcile the way that “coping” is often used colloquially and the definition. Coping, in my world, is accepting the circumstances in which we find ourselves and then working to integrate strategies for handling said circumstances in the best way possible. Living with a terminal illness has been the best teacher for me to understand that some “problems and difficulties” are simply insurmountable. The idea that a terminal diagnosis could be “overcome” is just … laughable.
I realize that some people really like the language of “overcoming” of being a “warrior” and of “conquering” this cancer experience. I get that intellectually, I just can’t reconcile going to funerals on a regular basis with this language. The battle language, of overcoming, just doesn’t make sense to me.
Perhaps I’m overthinking this, perhaps my way of coping is to challenge the accepted terminology. Story of my life!
I really do think coping with a difficult thing, whatever difficult thing one is dealing with, is so very individual. Some people deal with difficulty by avoiding thinking about, compartmentalizing or something like it. Some people deal with difficulties by simply not thinking about it. Some people deal with difficulties by making it their mission, their passion. Some people deal with difficulty by learning everything they can about it.
I’m sure anyone who has read this blog for any length of time can guess where I fall on this continuum.