Sunday, September 23, 2012

Man Up

We're screwed up. 

Men, that is. Faced with overwhelming evidence from our brain, our body, every piece of literature, our friends, our family... from everyone, that we need help, our general response is. 
"Nah, I got it. I'm fine. I'm good."

Meanwhile internally, we duck our head and turn our shoulder to the bitter cold that this radical self-sufficiency brings and we say to ourselves that we can tough it out. It's hard. But we can be harder. 
We go to work when we should stay home. We insist on moving a desk, or a couch, or a refrigerator by ourselves. We stay in the game when we should get out. We get lost. 

And we take some perverse pride in it.  As if toughness is the measure of greatness.
Maybe it's not all men. Maybe it's not just men. Maybe it's just athletes. I don't know. But I've played sports, watched sports, watched sports movies, coached sports, read about sports, talked sports, wrote about sports... you get the idea. I've never heard these lines: "Wow! I really admire him for sitting this one out."

Which is not to say that I think every time someone gets a bruise, they should head for the sidelines, literally or metaphorically. But from an early age, in boys and men particularly, we celebrate a culture of toughness and stoicism -- particularly in sports -- that becomes a part of how we define and evaluate our worth. You got hit by a baseball? Shake it off. Got a knock on your knee? Walk it off. Here, rub some dirt on it. In the face of adversity, illness, difficulties, we soldier on. 

We man up. 

The cancer world is full of battle imagery. I've said that in this space before. But I never really got why some people objected to it. I get it now.

Not because this past week has been such a struggle. There were a few mildly difficult days that, if I had listened, would have been easier. No, I get it because the whole battle, fight, be strong language, if interpreted the wrong way, can end up reinforcing the whole man-up culture. It can be read that fighting, being strong is the only acceptable response. 

It's not an either-or situation, of course. There are times when fighting through is the right course. But there are also times when it's okay to sit one out. To take a break. To listen to your body. And it won't make us any lesser for it.

As the second post-chemo week continues, I'm happy to report that I'm feeling pretty much back to my self. But I'm also aware that week one will continue to be tough (perhaps even more so as we move forward through the 4-6 cycles). Next time, though, I might be a little less tough.