After ten years of working against domestic violence, I was fairly sure I “got it.” Then something really crazy happened to me: doctors found a gigantic tumor in my six-month-old baby daughter’s head.
We referred to the whole ordeal as the “BBC” (Baby with Brain Cancer), believing that something as ridiculous as childhood cancer deserved a ridiculous nickname.
When I came back to work, I began to see the experiences of abused people in a new light and saw many parallels to my experience:
|When your intimate partner is abusing you:||
|When your child is diagnosed with cancer:|
- It is unexpected, devastating and totally inconsistent with your dreams and desires
- You have to make some tough decisions when all of your options are pretty crappy
- You need your family, friends and community more than ever
- It’s hard to concentrate on anything else when lives are on the line
- In shelters and hospitals: sharing space with strangers and dealing with institutional rules is a drag
- Money makes a huge difference
I did notice one key difference: Our family got oodles of sympathy and tangible support, and virtually no one questioned our choices. But what I have seen in my work is that many survivors of abuse get the opposite reaction. The experiences are similar; the stakes are equally high, but the response tends to be a lot less supportive. Why is that?
P.S. My daughter is currently showing no evidence of disease. But just like survivors of abuse, the fear of what might happen still lingers.