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Column: No Shame in Crying

Nor is it a crying shame. But something has changed, dare I say affected my tear duct production. I can’t say with certainty – or even specify a particular moment in time for sure – when the tears began to flow more easily, but I’ll guess the change occurred sometime on or around February 27, 2009, the day I first met my oncologist; the day I was diagnosed with a terminal disease, stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), “prognosed” to live 13 months to two years. If that kind of shocking, terminal-type news doesn’t upset your apple cart – permanently, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.” And so it has, as reflected in my frequent “salty discharge” (to quote Jerry Seinfeld).

How this “upset” has manifested itself has been in my emotional reactions to things. On a wide range of subjects, when discussions conjure any kind of heartfelt, semi emotional connection/reaction, my voice weakens, quivers, shakes, cracks and then becomes almost inaudible as I try to string together the words in my brain that I’m trying to vocalize through my mouth. Invariably the words get out, but in a halting type of hesitation rather than the firm kind of expression with which I’m accustomed. I used to be confident in what I said; now I’ve become confident in what I can’t say.

Moreover, if the circumstances described in the previous paragraph occur in a semi private place, or where I feel a bit more at ease, my eyes will begin to water and tears will form. I can usually prevent my cheeks from getting wet by rubbing my eyes and clearing my throat, but at that point, the damage is already done: I have been walloped emotionally, almost unexpectedly, given the usually unrelated-to-my life story line mentioned. Once again however, the cancer – in my opinion, has reared its ugly, figurative head.

It’s not exactly as if I’m crying over spilled milk, but I seem to be crying over and about thoughts, memories, expressions, references, etc., not necessarily relating to cancer and rarely connecting to me. It’s as if my reaction stabilizer (as if there is such a thing) has been compromised somehow. (You think?) I can’t control or even prevent these very public displays of being affected. Apparently, my immune system is so focused on fighting/fending off the cancer – internally/physically, that it has lost its ability to thwart off the external. It seems that the words I see, hear and feel upset me more than the metastatic tumors I know I have in my lungs do.

I’m definitely different now. I can’t always keep my feelings to myself. The tears give me away. It’s not embarrassing – to me. It’s nothing about which I’m ashamed. It is however, something for which I have no off switch. And though I may have thought – about myself, going into this cancer life, that I was fairly sturdy and together emotionally, perhaps these tears are evidence to the contrary. Or maybe it’s simply my body’s way of coping with an extremely demanding and hostile intruder: cancer.