Secrets! (Mental cancer?)

I have to admit one of the reasons I loved working in a doctor’s office (as a Neuro Optometrist) was the reception room magazines. My staff would hide People from me so I wouldn’t be able to steal them on my breaks. Then, as a cancer patient, they were an escape during chemo and other treatments. Now, as a counselor, I read People with a new set of eyes.

An article about Jackie Collins, the famous author, days before she died, stayed with me (10/5/15). She kept her breast cancer an absolute secret for six years, from friends, family and the public. She thought about it (& actually felt it physically) daily but also claimed to have mentally erased it from her mind, choosing to live “happily, happily!” in denial.

She knew but she didn’t know.Secrets

She wants other survivors to know that they should get screened and treated; that she had a choice, however recommends to not pick her choice.

That confused me a bit.

Until I started thinking about the mental cancers that we all live with on a daily basis, alone in our heads. Our deep, dark secrets…the break-ups and break downs we think about first thing in the morning and last thing before bed…the hoarded time and energy we spend on those we resent, detest and cannot stand…obsessing over what we don’t want vs what we do…how we try so hard to “get over” things versus look them straight in the eye in the way that we do when we are in a counseling chair or face-to-face with someone who can finally help us because we cried “mercy!” and let down our guard.

Jackie was queen of creating romance novels full of adventure and plot lines for her most famous heroine, Lucky Santangelo, even writing five more books AFTER she was diagnosed with cancer. Her sister, Joan, was an equally glamorous TV star from the 1980s. Clearly they valued attractiveness, popularity and success (See my Riddle of Self Esteem blogpost) over any other obstacles to their fame and fortune. Maybe high self esteem kept Jackie alive, living well after cancer. Maybe it was how she talked to herself vs what she showed the world that helped her mind-body connection, even during treatments that she endured privately.

We may never know.

What I do know is true (a la “Oprah!” said in her bellowing ringtone) is that we all have growths in our bodies and brains that we can choose to feed or ignore, share or not share. Sometimes outside our own consciousness, we pick the individual path that fits the picture we want to be true, even if it costs us dearly.

And that is okay.

It is alright to be driven by your desires and even the things you detest (because cancer and negative thoughts are no picnic!).

However, I think Jackie’s take home message is that we cannot hold the inside pain and outside world at bay forever. At some point, we must take off our public faces and face our inner countenance that is scared, worried, sad or alone. No feeling is worth losing your life and facing your feelings will not cost you nearly as much as blocking them out. Ultimately, she did that by letting people in.

Jackie and Joan Collins remind me of a sisterhood that we share, whether we know of each other’s personal pain and suffering or not. While Jackie wanted to protect her sister, it prevented Joan from being there for her, which could have helped them both. Of course it is Jackie’s choice to not share her diagnosis, but I wonder how much mental burden she experienced alone without a confidante, in order live a public life that was privately excruciating.

If you are hiding from your family or yourself in order to deal with your inner demons, I welcome you to see if counseling is a good fit for gaining the guts and grace to trust yourself and another person to face your fears together.

I do not need to know the intimate details of your inner agony to know that sharing it with a trusted counselor is the way we begin to heal and survive, no matter what the truth we face together.

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