Some thoughts on being touched


By Caitlin Kelly

Touch can be soothing or frightening, a source of comfort or terror.

The past few weeks have made clearer — personally and politically — the importance of touch, physical and emotional.

Since telling people about my DCIS diagnosis, Jose and I have been deeply moved and touched by so many people, worldwide, young and old, friends, neighbors and colleagues, who have called and emailed to share their love and concern.

It’s been surprising to us — tough old boots of journalists that we are, working for decades in a fact-based business — to feel such a powerful wave of love and emotion.

We are very grateful.

The business of diagnosing breast cancer, (like other forms, perhaps),  also means your body gets touched by many strangers, compressed repeatedly, punctured with needles and having markers inserted and written on your skin. By the time of my surgery, July 6, I will have had seven different medical appointments and five different pre-op tests.

When a medical professional, who does this job every day, is kind and compassionate, communicating it through their gentle touch — the nurse who held my hand through my biopsy, the phlebotomist so skilled I didn’t feel a thing as she took my blood, the radiologist who stroked my other wrist even as he guided the needle — it is deeply moving and so comforting.

As someone who has always really lived in her head — a thinker, not a feeler — and a lifelong athlete who sees (and appreciates!) her body not for its size or shape or putative beauty — but instead for its strength, flexibility and resilience, this is all disorienting in the extreme.

Of course, grateful for a medical team we like, but it is so odd to suddenly be — as of course we all are, every day (even as we may deny it) — so corporeally vulnerable and now so…handled.

The larger political current context — of tiny children being taken from their parents and shut into cages by American officials — is so grotesque it would be a parody, if it were not.

From Arizona Family:

Dr. Colleen Kraft, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that she visited a small shelter in Texas recently, which she declined to identity. A toddler inside the 60-bed facility caught her eye — she was crying uncontrollably and pounding her little fists on mat.

Staff members tried to console the child, who looked to be about 2 years old, Kraft said. She had been taken from her mother the night before and brought to the shelter.

The staff gave her books and toys — but they weren’t allowed to pick her up, to hold her or hug her to try to calm her. As a rule, staff aren’t allowed to touch the children there, she said. [italics mine]

“The stress is overwhelming,” she said. “The focus needs to be on the welfare of these children, absent of politics.”


From Texas Monthly:

Sometimes mothers—I was talking to one mother, and she said, “Don’t take my child away,” and the child started screaming and vomiting and crying hysterically, and she asked the officers, “Can I at least have five minutes to console her?” They said no. In another case, the father said, “Can I comfort my child? Can I hold him for a few minutes?” The officer said, “You must let them go, and if you don’t let them go, I will write you up for an altercation, which will mean that you are the one that had the additional charges charged against you.” So, threats. So the father just let the child go.

44 thoughts on “Some thoughts on being touched

  1. I don’t even know what to say about those children except that any government that does this and then lies about it is starting to slide toward totalitarianism. I am shocked, in utter disbelief, that I would ever say that about a US government. Donald Trump and his flock of flying monkeys are heinous.

    I’m glad to hear that you are being well looked after. 🙂

      1. Jan Jasper

        I agree. A year ago, decent people were saying “Surely, Republicans will start standing up to him soon.” That so few are, even now, is terrifying. I’m concerned that progressive and liberal people are giving up. We cannot stop calling our Senators and making our voices heard in every way we can. Though I sometimes wonder, as my Senators are both Democratic, how much it accomplishes. Anyone who knows caring people, friends and relatives, in Red states – please urge them to contact their Senators & Reps. And keep supporting groups like the ACLU, and the group that fights gerrymandering (can’t think of its name now – it was started by Eric Holder),

      2. Thanks.

        I wish (in a sad way) I could time travel to the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler. We all know the outcome but I wish I could have heard what “ordinary” people — not persecuted Jews and those trying to save them — thought as their world went to hell. How many of them gave up? Didn’t care because it only affected “the others”? That’s the sick game he is playing — and winning.

        Only the mid-terms will tell if this is what the United States most prefers to be. We have another 4.5 months of this shit to wade through first.

  2. your experience may change you or make you more open in ways you may never have imagined, as you journey towards and through your recovery. it is hardest for the strong to let down their walls to welcome in a bit of gentle help, but as you have already begun to feel, it can be a positive thing, and does not diminish your strength in any way.

    as for the children, separated from their parents, i wake up each day, thinking about it. i think about what is happening every day now, and how my kinders at school sometimes are so sad for a bit when being dropped off at school, but they quickly learn that their teachers will look our for them and keep them safe, and know without a doubt that their family will return for them each day without fail. i cannot even imagine the terror/horror of a violent and sudden parting with no promise of when and how they will be reconnected. it is overwhelming.

    1. You, of all the people I know, best understand small children and their needs. This brutality has significantly diminished my respect for the States (sorry to say) and I know, globally, this is also true.

      You’re right. I feel like a lobster cracked open. 🙂

      1. I wonder what is going to happen in the mid-terms. I wonder how many people are at their wits’ end now…which they thought they were yesterday but then it got even worse.

  3. rwh


    So sorry to read about your illness. And grateful you are being well cared for by loving professionals. I’ll be thinking about you.

    That quote about the children not being by touched or held is the one that has been most painful to me. Regardless of rules, how can anyone not try to hug a distraught child? I’m crying as I write this. I’m ashamed of America. I am stunned there are people who support this policy. My hope is that this is finally the straw that breaks the camel’s back and gets people to vote these monsters out of office.

    1. Thank you! It means a great deal to know others are thinking of me (however selfish that is!) My own mother (who has survived BC and other cancers) doesn’t even know, since we are estranged, so friends’ support really helps.

      I am also stunned. It is horrific to think we are surrounded by people who approve of this brutality and would happily vote Trump in again.

    2. Jan Jasper

      It is crucially important for people to get to the polls. Millions of Dems and Progressives do not bother to vote. It’s been well-known for decades: in a snowstorm, Republicans still show up to vote, but Dems do not. And – while I realize our 2-party system is not perfect – people should not waste their vote on a 3rd party candidate. That, more often than not, takes a vote away from the Democratic candidate.

  4. carolyn

    You are in my thoughts, I’m so glad the medical community that you have found is supportive and responsive.

    This situation with the children is horrifying. As I await the birth of my first grandchild, I can’t imagine anything ripping her from my daughter’s arms or from her breast with no guarantees of when she would see her again. I am so sad for these families, and our country.

    1. Thank you! We’re lucky to have good insurance and a nearby hospital that prizes compassionate care — I even wrote about their policy years ago.

      It is. Congrats on your grandchild!

  5. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, I am so sorry to hear that you are dealing with cancer! But as it was detected early, there’s a good chance that you’ll come out of it just fine. What a relief it is that you have good medical care and, of course, Jose. Please keep us posted.

  6. Touch has the power to hurt, but it’s even more powerful when it’s used to help and heal. I often think that I don’t get enough touch and contact in my life, so when I get a hug from someone I care for, it’s quite the mood-lifter.

      1. Tell me about it.
        You know, there’s actually a profession that’s popped up to fill that demand for human contact? Cuddlists, they let clients come into their home and cuddle for $80 an hour. If they had one of those in Columbus, I’d take advantage of that every few months (sadly, the nearest ones to me are a two-three hour drive to Cleveland).

      2. Hm.

        I think a massage works as well for about the same price. I enjoy the touch but don’t want supposed emotional intimacy from a stranger.

        To each his own, though…

      3. Jan Jasper

        I would find a cuddle from a stranger to be odd and uncomfortable. A deep massage from a well trained, experienced massage therapist can do wonders for everything from arthritis, the after-effects of cancer treatments, plantar fasciitis, and much much more. I go to a massage therapist in Central New Jersey who is extraordinarily good. There are few like her, I suspect.

      4. I love a good massage — I got my first one decades ago as research (!) for a story. Have had many since, and the best have taught me a lot about my anatomy and stretching. I’d never even heard of (!) fascia until a Canadian massage therapist worked on mine and explained it.

  7. pbr

    Hello Cailtin
    I’ve been an avid follower of your blog for a couple of years. In fact it was your post about Rovinj, Croatia that inspired me to go there last year. I’m a Canadian (live in the GTA). I feel compelled to write now after reading your post about DCIS. I too was diagnosed with DCIS and had surgery in November followed by radiation in January, February of this year. Several years prior to that I had ADH (one down from DCIS). Today I met with my oncologist and got the all clear after my last mammogram. So…hang in there. This too shall pass and the outlook these days with early diagnosis is very good. Thank you Caitlin for your informative and thought-provoking blogs. As for what is happening south of our border…well, I am not planning to travel south of the border any time soon. I think many of my fellow Canadians feel that way too – that we cannot in good conscience vacation in a country and pretend it doesn’t affect us.
    Btw…no massages advised during radiation.

    1. Thank you for the kind words!

      And your BC encouragement and advice — I had assumed no massages for quite some time so I had one last week and might have one the day before surgery since it will be months til the next one.

      So glad you saw Rovinj…sooooo beautiful and I only discovered it through another blogger’s recommendation, a Twitter friend I finally met with last July in Berlin.

      I am very very glad that I took out my stock market gains last year (all gone now) and took six weeks to travel Europe last summer — leaving in early June…I would had to have cancelled it if it were this year.

      We’re trying to plan a 2-3 week sojourn in England for this fall after this is over. I need something NON medical to look forward to — as you well know.

  8. Your writing touched my heart and made me think about my life experiences. My heart goes out to the children and their families.

    It’s hard enough to get a unexpected medical diagnosis yet when you having a medical team that’s with you every step of the way. It provides comfort and hope.

  9. Trump (better: President Chump) doesn’t like free and doesn’t understand societies. He likes and understands only authoritarian societies. So it is not surprising that he thought it was OK to set up concentration camps for children, to use as a bargaining chip to extrort from Democrats in Congress funding for his needless wall. A base man who his interested only in throwing raw meat to his base. On another topic: I am glad that you encountered kindly caring competant medical personnel. Best wishes.

  10. There was a major typo in the first line of that comment. It should have read: “Trump (better: President Chump) doesn’t like and doesn’t understand free societies.”

  11. I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis and am sending peace and support for your recovery. It sounds like you’re keeping things in good perspective, which I know from reading your work that you always do. Warrior on!

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