a large monster being hidden behind a small curtain.

Not in a Vacuum

Editor’s Note: This article was originally shared by our sister site, BladderCancer.net, and was written by Mac Howard.

Cancer has been an incredible teacher, a constant companion, and a challenge on so many fronts. The one area I have often struggled with and failed at is keeping in mind that I am not taking this journey alone. Everyone I love and who loves me is along for every step.

We shield our children from information

When I was diagnosed, Jan and I had only been married twenty-one years. We were still trying to navigate the toilet seat up or down discussion. Our kids were eighteen, fifteen, and twelve (or near there). In other words, we had a full plate, and Jan and I decided less information was better. That was a mistake. The kids knew more than I gave them credit for, and my failure to talk about the cancer meant they could not process it either. Shielding them was actually giving them no way to vocalize their fears. As I said in another article, there is no “Cancer for Dummies.” We did our best, but we could have done much better.

If I didn’t talk about the possibilities or the fear, then it was not real. If it wasn’t real for me, then it wouldn’t be real for the kids and Jan, and we could all just move forward. A great outlook in theory – not the best in actual practice.

Cancer is messy

The truth is: cancer is messy. Not only the physical strain. The mess I am talking about lives in the heart and the spirit. If I could go back and change one thing I did after my diagnosis, I would change my transparency. I would empower everyone around me to be free to express their truth in the day-to-day of our cancer. Maybe that is the insight I have gained. This was not “my” cancer, this was and is “our” cancer.

“Our” cancer

My health concerns are not just “mine.” Just as Jan’s and the kids’ lives are intertwined with mine, so mine is with theirs. I do not believe we ever really hide anything from loved ones. I think we just hold them out and hope the darkness shields them. More often than I would like to admit, Jan and the kids ask questions that make it obvious I am not hiding anything.


Soon, one or another will ask me if I am getting close to my next scan. They will see me get misty-eyed when I talk about a friend with cancer or when cancer comes up in a movie and they will give me a hug. I will notice one of them getting quiet when cancer comes up in day-to-day life. As I said, this is not just me having had cancer, this is us surviving.

How your diagnosis affects loved ones

So, if I may, have a look around and see how your diagnosis is affecting those who love you. If they are close to you, they probably already know more than you think. They see your fears and they share them. They see your anxiety and echo it. When I was given an opportunity to write these articles, my desire was and remains that someone reading these posts might navigate the journey of cancer with more wisdom than I had.

Choose vulnerability

Health concerns of any kind can be daunting. Isolating yourself makes them even more daunting. When the temptation is to shut down, consider opening up. It may seem counterintuitive to choose vulnerability when all you want to do is protect. Give it a try. It is not easy. Not convenient. What it is, is freeing. It is freeing to embrace your own vulnerabilities and allow those who love you to lift you up and aid in bearing the shared burden.

Leaving pride behind

My wife and kids and so many others have carried me and held me up in the darkest hours and longest days. I have not always made that easy. My pride has been the biggest hurdle. Being afraid to own my weakness and insecurities about the future was close behind. I have learned that sheltering those you love only robs us all of the closeness we so desperately long for.

Allow yourself to be open and honest and vulnerable to those who reach out to help and support you. Cancer is enough of a battle. Don’t fight alone.

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