[cancer] My theory of problems

So, during the continuing adventure of surgery followed by chemotherapy followed by more surgery over 2009-2010, I evolved a new theory of problems. Actually, it’s a theory I’ve had for a long time, but my personal medical situation really underscored the point to me.

Essentially it’s this: Everyone’s problems are as big as they are.

I would reasonably often have conversations that went something like this:

Friend: “Man, I feel lousy. I have a cold.”
Jay: “Man, that sucks. I hope you feel better soon.”
Friend: (embarrassed) “Oh, wait. You have cancer. Never mind.”

For “a cold” substitute “a flat tire”, “a job interview”, “a sick dog”, etc.

The thing is, the scale of my issues don’t mean that anyone else’s matter less. Yes, there is the question of perspective. I’m not an idiot, I understand there’s a huge distinction between a three-day upper respiratory infection and a year of brutal treatments for a potentially fatal disease. But if you’re not the one with cancer, the cold can be a pretty big problem. (If you’re on chemo, a cold can be a gigantic problem, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Sick or not, I am human too. I care about my friends and am sympathetic to their troubles. Often as not, it eases my mind to talk about some else other than FUCKING CANCER ALL THE GOD-DAMNED TIME. Even if that something else is tough stuff as well.

So, like I said, everyone’s problems are as big as they are.

This applies in writing as well. Novelists worrying about their royalty statements are grappling with problems that are just as real to them as people aching to sell their first story. We just call that trading up to a better class of problems. If you haven’t sold yet, the kvetching of established writers sounds like complaining about paying taxes on your lottery winnings. But guess what? Lottery winners pay taxes, too.

Cancer sucks. So does a head cold, a flat tire, etc. We all live our lives. I’m just trying to live mine.

11 thoughts on “[cancer] My theory of problems

  1. Silty says:

    Living isn’t easy for many of us. Glad you’re doing it! I’m going to keep at it myself, too.

  2. Thanks for this. You hit me in the gut with this one. I oft times feel like this. My problems are smaller or bigger depending on the subject matter. It’s all life, though. Good health to you, sir.

  3. Awesome post, Jay, and if you want to listen to me kvetch about my narcolepsy, just say the word.

    Most people don’t take it seriously because it ISN’T cancer… and I’ve been laughed at for being Mr. Magoo way too many times. Not so funny, though, were I to run my car off the road in the midst of a sleep attack and kill an innocent bystander, right?

    And no, I don’t have an easy “pop a pill” solution.. I have to learn to live with it. And I do, I have that luxury (a truck driver or shift worker, not so much). But it sure would be a lot easier if people didn’t make such a mockery of it.

  4. EC says:

    There’s a lot of wisdom in this blog. This is another one of those great posts. Well said!

    Wishing Ms. Sellman fortuitously well-timed downtimes and safety. Not laughing. It’s real & it ain’t funny.

    1. Thanks EC, that means a lot!

  5. Mike Mullin says:

    I come to this blog to learn a few writing tricks and chase an interesting link or two across the internet. But sometimes, like on reading this post, I stop in amazement and say to myself, “Yes, that’s the kind of writer I want to be. That’s the kind of person I want to be.” Thank you, Jay.

    1. DebraLynn says:

      What he said! Jay, you’re the kind of person I want to be.

  6. Allyson says:

    I need to remember this all the time. Because I constantly feel guilty about kvetching about what are legitimate problems, because someone else’s are even worse. But that doesn’t change the fact that mine exist. I need to get over my darn guilt complex.

  7. I was thinking about this recently in the context of the movie The King’s Speech, which I liked, but did not love. I figured out I didn’t love it because I’m not an Angliophile, I don’t care about royalty particularly or formal affairs involving royalty, but mostly one other item in particular: the movie stumbled off the tightrope at one point late and reminded me that everyone was facing a huge problem much worse than a stammer. The story is gripping as long as you identify with the King and his struggle. Bounced out to think about everyone else, even for a moment, brings his problem into a different context and changes perspective.

    It’s like your friend remembering your cancer. It “ruins” his own story, at least momentarily. He does have a real problem, and it’s of great immediate concern to him, the way a story is to a reader. When the world at large intrudes, the magic fails.

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