Lest any of you think it’s been all theological revelations by the fire and completely healthy emotional processing of my husband’s recent cancer diagnosis, please let me shatter those illusions.
But first, I have to start with a story. A few months ago, while Adam was in the midst of medical tests and we were still awaiting a diagnosis for the huge mass on Adam’s neck, we invited a friend over to watch one of our all-time favorite movies: What About Bob? Years of work in the mental health field plus Bill Murray make this movie insanely hilarious to me. Humor is a good remedy for anxious-waiting.
What About Bob? is a story about an emotionally disturbed man (Bob Wiley) who eventually gets well, but in the process, he makes his Psychologist (Dr. Leo Marvin) go mad. There are so many scenes that make me laugh til my stomach hurts.
But on this particular anxiety-ridden aforementioned night, the scene that had me in stitches was the one where Bob Wiley (Bill Murary) and Sigmund Marvin (the psychologist’s kid) are jumping on the beds pretending they have Tourette’s and screaming obscenities in hilarious combinations.
I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a conservative Christian home where swearing was not an option. We weren’t even supposed to say g-rated cuss-word knock offs like “gosh”, “darn”, or “fart” (not sure how fart made it on the list but it did). I grew up learning to be really careful with my word choices.
Combine ingrained word-caution that with my natural inclination toward perfection and people-pleasing and you’ve got someone who has learned to weigh her words to give off the impression that she has things together.
But on October 2, Adam got diagnosed with cancer and I fell apart. There’s been nothing “together” about me for the last few months. Most nights you can find a pile of tissues somewhere around the house (sometimes two or three). I understand what the Psalmist meant in chapter 42 when he says “tears have been my food.”
It’s not just sadness (but it’s a lot of sadness). It’s also anxiety, fear, and anger. And because I don’t have a lot of energy to do much other than get through each day right now, I’ve decided there is no sense wasting energy on filtering my words.
So just like Bob Wiley, I gave myself Tourettes – More specifically, I gave myself “Cancer Tourettes”.
Cancer Tourettes means that I get to say what I’m thinking. This includes (but is not limited to):
* And Cuss-Yelling
At least that’s how my Cancer Tourettes started.
My newfound free vocabulary typically leads Adam and I to fits of laughter. Since I didn’t try out swearing when I was in 4th grade like most kids, I’m like a 4th grader when I drop a bomb now. So Cancer Tourettes is a good humor break.
But it’s also more than that. Cancer Tourettes, we’ll call it CT for short, has led to me be less calculated and more honest.
CT has paved the way for me to admit when I am sad, mad, disappointed, and anxious without feeling compelled to wrap a nice bow around it. CT has enabled me to say, “I’m having a really hard day” and stop there without having to tack a theological ditty about God’s faithfulness or new mercies being available the following morning or a note that others have it worse than us on the end of it. CT has taught me to be honest in my prayers without trying to figure out what I am supposed to pray (cuss-yelling in prayers is a real new thing for me but God can handle it). Cancer Tourettes has turned into a good thing for me.
So don’t be surprised if in a conversation with me, there’s a new grit, honesty, or even vocabulary; it’s a new thing I’m trying out. The cancer is only temporary, the doctors are telling us, but I don’t know about the Tourettes.
*PS, I know that as a Social Worker, I should probably not even write this post, or at the very least acknowledge that Tourette Syndrome is a real disease that rarely looks like yelling obscenities and it’s not funny and the media has twisted it. But I’m working on not filtering everything I say, so can we just agree to hold this post as a lighthearted one in the midst of a lot of heaviness?
*PPS with Thanksgiving fast approaching, I leave you my most favorite table etiquette scene of all time (of course from What About Bob?)