Don’t You Dare Be Negative
Recently, I looked online at various cancer coping magazines and saw their submission guidelines for publishing. What I came across astounded me. Many websites that claim to be designed for people who are coping with cancer warn any potential contributors that they must be “…informal, upbeat, and positive”, and that “…articles about death and dying are not accepted”. Another gem of a magazine ordered that no alternative medicine stories are allowed. And yet another one demanded that you must be “inspirational” and “…provide hope”. The prize though goes to the one place that commanded “…except where medically appropriate, substitute other words for ‘patient’, such as ‘survivor’.”
So this is what I say to the editors and owners of these publications:
First of all, how dare you tell me that I must be upbeat and positive? How dare you perpetuate this hypocritical and hurtful propaganda that only makes cancer sufferers feel lonelier and more isolated? When someone is down on all fours trying to crawl to the bathroom because the chemotherapy makes them sick, the last thing they want to read about is how someone “put a smile on their face and went shopping for a family of five”. When a 21 year old girl looks at herself in the mirror and sees a bald head and no eyelashes or eyebrows, the last thing she wants to read about is how someone had a blast picking out their cancer scarves. These people want to read real stories about someone who feels just like them. They want to hear that it is OK to feel desperate and scared. They want to know that being miserable is normal. They want real encouragement. They don’t want a maniacal account of attending children’s soccer games and hosting a party despite the chemo side effects.
Second of all, how dare you tell anyone that articles about death and dying are not acceptable? The people that are, sadly, diagnosed too late or have incurable cancer are not worthy of your precious magazine’s space? Death is a beast that sits on every cancer patient’s shoulder, and most of the time, till the rest of their life. They need to talk about it and they need to be able to release their fear so that the Grim Reaper that’s so comfortably settled on their back loses his power. How dare you not provide space for the family and friends to remember their departed loved one? How dare you not honor the ones who have lost their life to this sneaky and wicked disease?
Third of all, how dare you omit the wonders of alternative medicine therapy? A lot of cancer patients have no other option than natural approaches because everything else failed. How dare you tell them they mustn’t share their experience and, perhaps, even a success story? Or do you maybe have the big pharma lining your pockets to instead display ads for the latest anti nausea and sleep aid medications?
Fourth of all, how dare you dismiss stories from the heart, simple stories of everyday life and instead demand inspiration and hope. People with cancer lose hope every day in a vicious cycle of pulling themselves from the abyss of despair to the top, peeking over the wall just to get knocked down again by another treatment, by another complication. Their only inspiration is a vision of the day when they are able to sit down at a dining room table, dressed in normal clothes and enjoy a full meal and a glass of wine without throwing up and without having to stop half way through because they are too weak. So how dare you demand hope and inspiration? Let the cancer patients tell you what they want to tell you, you may actually learn something.
And, lastly, how dare you require that a cancer patient be only called a survivor? Who gave you the authority to label people for whom life suddenly became a commodity that may be lost in a matter of months, weeks or even days? We are all patients, we are all getting treatment, we go through horrible times, we cry and we get angry. That is the reality of cancer. That is the reality of being a patient. We are not Robinson Crusoe – he was a survivor from a capsized boat. Our body is our boat and it is leaking. We are frantically trying to plug all the holes but for the rest of our life we will never know how much strength we have to stay above the water. We will never know if we, indeed, are survivors or if the next wave is going to take us down.
So, please, Mr. or Mrs. Editor, take your submission guidelines and shove them up your ass. Let us be patients. Let us bitch and moan and curse and cry. Let us talk about what we want to talk about. We don’t have the time and energy to make you feel better through fake happiness and beating on our chests in false bravado. We need to save our strength to get through the day.