I recently commented on an online status of an artist friend who stated that she had been accepted to participate on Top Chef. I was startled and surprised, but given her immense talent as an artist thought it completely plausible that she might have hidden talents as well, and commented this.
Hours later she sent me a private message that since I remarked on her status, she was obliged to tell me that she was not, in fact, accepted to Top Chef, nor did she have a squirrel in her car (something I missed in my excitement about Top Chef participation). Her posting was part of a Breast Cancer Awareness “game.” Anyone who comments is invited/encouraged to continue the hoax and post one of ten untruths including the above two, plus others as provocative as #6 “I’ve decided to stop wearing underwear,” or #10 “I’m getting a pet monkey.” They are all unlikely but to varying degrees in the realm of possibility.
I was puzzled and a little miffed at what I perceived to be a lack of connection to breast cancer. The ten semi-outrageous declarations range from delightful to mildly jolting and none carry the weight or depth of a cancer diagnosis. Certainly it would be cruel and in very poor taste to post untruthfully that someone was diagnosed with any disease, so I suppose this game was one way to evoke the element of surprise. It catches our attention, and we are willing to engage in discourse with someone who asks “#3 How do you get rid of foot fungus?” What then are we willing to discuss when we learn that someone we hold dear has been diagnosed with a serious disease?
Having been on the receiving end of the real thing, I know that there is no complete preparation for such news. No matter the process with ultrasounds or biopsies, there is not a way to stop the stomach dropping news to hear the word cancer in connection with your health. Although life goes into a surreal time warp, protracting and distorting the experience while waiting for next steps, it does in fact march on resolutely, leaving a bevy of feelings in its wake.
Now also learning about people’s responses to breast cancer through my psychotherapy practice, I know that people work through the shock and make decisions about treatment which are often not straight forward or simple. There can be similarities in diagnosis, but not in personal circumstances, or people can be of similar age and proximity to health care, but have radically different severity or type of disease. In addition, when someone has a lumpectomy and radiation, typically the least amount of treatment, she is still dealing with the psychological impact of working through an otherwise deadly disease and a near miss can provoke thoughts about one’s mortality, wishes for life, order of priorities.
A potential gain of the game is the community that Facebook can generate. In the face of upsetting news, the power of the group cannot be underestimated, but one must be ready, and in a position to receive the focus and attention.
If the Facebook “game” helps people to have more compassion for receiving unanticipated news, then the net result is positive, offsetting the confusion and clarification that inevitably ensue.Without knowledge of where the game was initiated or by whom, it is impossible to completely understand the intent. I will assume the head scratching that results is meant to help us all to expect the unexpected. At least they are not doing it in the omnipresent pink that also characterizes this month.