The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, published in 1959 and written by Alan Sillitoe was a favorite of mine growing up. The book’s main character, Colin Smith, is identifiable to me in many ways, even more so since being diagnosed with terminal cancer nearly three years ago. Cancer is a race you pretty much run alone, especially once the crowds and initial fanfare subsides. Cancer has various stages, levels and types of loneliness, all individual to its host.
The loneliness of cancer isn’t lack of social interaction; it is a simple yearning for our old before cancer selves. It’s crazy to know our old selves don’t seem so very far away, yet they are forever lost to us. Living with terminal cancer will change the relationship you have with yourself and others. You can’t control their changes toward you, though you can grow yourself, especially emotionally. It is a process that oftentimes doesn’t feel real fair though remember the tradeoff of “selves” is continuing to live life in your most well way. It hurts to see them go. A big part of the work is understanding the role of pain and fear in the personal journey you share with a terminal disease.
Don’t tool loneliness into a coping mechanism for explaining or accepting your difference. Watching the world go on without your old self hurts despite your gratefulness to be here. It is confusing on emotional, moral, spiritual and sometimes even ethical grounds and can be quite paradoxical.
Know that it is okay to feel the hurt when people you thought who would, don’t want to discuss your journey with you. You will find yourself constantly interrupted in conversation with their comparisons to your path when you can or are finally ready to offer explanations of your journey. It is easy to begin digging a tunnel and returning to stuffing emotions into your old in boxes or to allow yourself to sink back into what you can’t get out just yet. If you have come this far, do not cover yourself with the blankets of their discomfort. Resentment and anger which accompanies this stage of the loneliness of cancer will not keep you warm.
Remember the “they” in the equation are always out of your control. Let them go. You may miss them and their relationship with your well self, though hitting the self-mute button will only fuel your frustration. Even if you don’t make any sense to yourself, once you start, keep talking and moving forward. Refuse to fight their battles and refuse to always be the first to extend the offerings required to retain a relationship they can only have with your old self. That self, by this time, is long, long gone.
Only your work on your new self can help you heal and grow to properly accept and resolve the loneliness of cancer.