By Katie “Crush” Campbell
Please ask me how I’m doing (not how I’m feeling)
Next time you see me, email me, text me, yell at me from across the street, bump into me at the grocery store I have a favor to ask. Please, pretty please, do not ask me how I am feeling. In particular I would appreciate it if you didn’t squish up your face, cock your head to the side, raise your voice two pitches and add ten extra Es to the word feeling: “How are you feeeeeeling?”
I know the intentions behind it are only good. I know you are concerned about me. I appreciate your concern. I appreciate you reaching out. I want to connect with you. I want to tell you what’s going on in my life. Battling Stage 4 cancer (or any stage of cancer for that matter) can be a lonely life and I want you to be a part of it. But this question hurts my heart, wears down my spirit and makes me feel less connected to you. So let me try and explain why that is and what you can ask instead so we can have that meaningful moment that I hope and believe we are both craving.
You see, I not only spend a good amount of time every day fighting for my life, I am also fighting every day to feel really alive. I hate days when I get even a mild cold because it makes me feel weak when all I really want to feel is strong. Strength and wellness give me hope. Illness and weakness make me feel like I’m dying. Any reminder that I am not the strong, healthy, vibrant person that I work so hard to be is like a dagger in my back. “How are you feeling?” is just one of those reminders.
You see, I am fortunate enough to be on a protocol made up mostly of immunotherapies which come with little to no side effects so most days I actually do feel pretty good. In fact, if I didn’t have cancer I would bet that I would look like one of the healthier people you know. Every morning I wake up and meditate for 30 minutes. Then I do Qi Gong for 20 minutes. I follow that by taking a bunch of vitamins and drinking a part green, part protein shake. Then I’ll usually do about 30 minutes of yoga or go for a quick run before I get ready for the day. Throughout the day I eat a lot of veggies, drink more green drinks, avoid processed food, meat and dairy and try to drink plenty of water and herbal tea. I end every day with more Qi Gong and another 30 minutes of meditation. And over and over again, from the moment I rise until the moment I go to sleep I repeat the same mantra: “I am healthy. I am well. I’m alive. I will survive.” All of these things help me to feel healthy and strong and alive, which, in turn, makes me feel safer in a world that is trying to convince me that I might not “make it.”
When you come along and ask me how I feel in an instant I go from feeling like a super powered, cancer butt kicking badass warrior woman who deserves your support and admiration to a sad, sick person who only deserves your pity. You don’t ask Superman how he’s feeling, unless he’s just had a bad run in with some kryptonite. You ask Batman about his latest nemesis, not what bumps and scratches he got in his last fight. And for that matter you wouldn’t ever ask a healthy human being how they are feeling. You would ask them how they are doing. “Doing” is active. It implies that the person at the other end of the question has some active agency in their life. “Feeling” is passive, and it automatically implies weakness and illness.
When someone asks me how I feel it makes me feel like less of a human. It makes me feel less alive. It makes me feel like despite all of my hard work to be alive, to engage in life, to be as healthy as I possibly can be that I am still just my cancer. My experience with First Descents, just two weeks after I finished my first year of treatment, was the first experience since my diagnosis that reminded me that I am more than my cancer. I am a rock climber! I am a challenge accepter! I am strong! I am powerful! I am brave! Cancer is a part of my life but it does not define me.
But you are worried about me and I get that. I appreciate it even. As I said, I want to connect with you as much as you want to connect with me, probably more so. So, if you want to know about my life here are some questions I’d love to hear:
These questions acknowledge that I am a human being, experiencing a full, complete and engaging life and that there is much more going on than just cancer. And even if the answer to some of these questions are cancer related at least they leave space for the conversation to be about something else. Sometimes I want to talk about cancer and sometimes I just want to be seen as a regular person. And if I talk to you about the challenges and difficulties that cancer has brought I want to do it from the perspective that we are on the same level, that we are both humans who have gone through suffering as part of the basic human experience. “How are you feeling?” almost always feels as if it’s being shouted from a pedestal of healthiness down to sad, little, old, sick feeling me. I can’t connect to you when you are so far above me.
So this holiday season as you go home to friends and family if you have someone who has been dealing with cancer or any other kind of illness think about the ways that you can connect with them in a way that is empowering to them. Remember that their lives are not limited to their illness and they are still active participants in the world with lots of interesting thoughts to share. All you have to do is ask the right question.
KATIE (CRUSH) CAMPBELL IS ORIGINALLY FROM MICHIGAN AND CURRENTLY LIVES WITH HER PARTNER, HER DOG AND HER CAT IN WASHINGTON, DC. BY DAY SHE WORKS ON INTERNATIONAL FOOD POLICY AT ACTIONAID USA WHICH GIVES HER THE OPPORTUNITY TO TRAVEL ALL OVER THE WORLD. BY NIGHT AND ON THE WEEKENDS CRUSH CAN BE FOUND IN HER LOCAL CLIMBING GYM, BIKING, HIKING OR CAMPING WITH FRIENDS, PLAYING AROUND WITH ONE OF HER MANY CAMERAS OR WHIPPING UP A DELICIOUS VEGAN MEAL. FOLLOW CRUSH ON HER OWN BLOG AT WWW.KATIECRUSHESCANCER.COM.