I Sweat the Small Stuff!

The woman at the bank asked, “Has cancer changed you? Do you no longer sweat the small stuff?”Cancer definitely changes everyone whom it touches, but not always in the ways people think. As if we become spiritual goddesses for having survived hell. On the other hand, and speaking for myself, it wasn’t as if I was an asshole to begin with. That’s probably true for most people who’ve been smacked up the side of the head by cancer’s slimy little hands.

I told the woman, “What was annoying before cancer doesn’t stop being annoying afterward.” In fact, cancer has made me sweat the small stuff more. It’s taught me to not tolerate certain behaviors in others that are toxic to me.

As I learned from reading, “The Wellness Community: Guide to Fighting for Recovery from Cancer,” it’s good to be nice, but there’s no merit in being too nice. Being “too nice” is when I say “yes” when I mean “no.” Granted, there are times when you do things that cause discomfort because in your heart, you know it’s right and to not do so is just plain selfishness, like when you get up with your child in the middle of the night. There’s a time to defer to another’s needs, and that’s “the good nice.” Those of us who were fortunate enough to have caregivers during treatment know that he or she had their moments when caring for us, but continued to give out of love.

There are times, however, when our boundaries have been crossed, when you feel it an imposition that you’ve even been asked to do this or that. Yet, you say, “Yes.” Or you don’t speak up. And why do we do that? Because we don’t like conflict.  We want to be liked. And accepted. To maintain our nice-guy image.

Cancer reinforced a lesson I’d already started to learn: if making others happy pisses our own selves off, it’s time to rethink what we’re doing. What’s more important – that others think well of you and you loathe your own self, or you gain self-respect and expend your energy in areas you feel worthy, even at another’s disapproval?

I don’t think this is the small stuff, really. It’s actually the big relationship stuff that often wears the cloak of “not a big deal so what’s all the bellyaching?” For the record, however, I still sweat the small stuff, too. Congested traffic continues to stress me out. Stepping in a dog’s “freshly made pies” because the owner didn’t have the courtesy to remove it gets me steamed. You want to see me turn into a curmudgeon? Just place a couple of loud-mouth neighbors outside my window when I’m trying to write. I know, I know… I must be feeling better.


  1. Marla Lukofsky says:

    This is a fantastic post. I feel exactly the same way.
    I was a nice person before the cancer and I’m still nice
    after it’s recovery
    but I’m nobody’s fool and I’m even less of a fool now.
    I too sweat the small stuff because it’s all relative. There’s stuff to sweat not to mention my now constantly sweating
    body thanks to my menopause.
    I appreciated things before the cancer and I still do after.
    One rule I have with myself is this. ‘I’d rather be respected than liked any day. Being popular or liked for not speaking
    up is something I’m not very good at nor is my stomach.
    Please keep sharing your truth. You are not alone
    with your thoughts and you are a very good writer.

  2. Great post!

  3. I can relate to a lot of what you say here. People have expected me to be different and I think part of that it’s because they see cancer as a “lesson,” a comparison I hate like you wouldn’t believe (!!).

    I feel I am still somewhat the same, the only difference is that everything is more raw to me, creating stronger emotions to come out — same emotions as before, only stronger. Because of those emotions I’ve been pushed to adjust to situations: I tolerate a lot less than what I used to. I have more courage to cut things off (including people) than ever before. In general, I feel more aware. But I am also getting older.

    Good read.

    • Glad you could relate, Small C — because I relate to everything you wrote in your comment. It amazes me how others need to make it all “nice.” Not everything has a silver lining.

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