So when someone tells you they have cancer, how do you react? Are you shocked? What do you say? My brother-in-law shared an article which was written in the Globe today about this very topic. I had actually looked at similar articles earlier in January when I found out I had cancer because I was trying to understand my reaction to some of the well meaning comments I was getting. Some things people said and still say to me can be bothersome. Sure, most people mean well and just “know not” what they say. I truly believe unless you have been diagnosed yourself, it is difficult to comprehend how someone diagnosed with cancer feels. There is so much comfort knowing a person who has walked the same road, often share the same thoughts and experiences. This is why I recommend going the route of a support group. Although, every cancer story is different, there is comfort in finding common cancer experiences even if the medical experience is not exactly the same. I tend to just ignore bothersome comments and I figured after reading today’s article it may be worth blogging about. My intention with this blog is to help make the cancer conversation less complicated. Possibly providing some tips to help with emotional support for the cancer patient, friends and family.
So here are a few things from my perspective that may help…
- Just Do it. Being extremely independent, then being sick and then asking for help isn’t something easy to do. Obviously, if you know the patient well enough, just announce your plans and do it. If not, coordinate with a caregiver or closer friend. Make small gestures like “I am bringing over dinner”, “I am throwing in a load of laundry for you”, “Can I take your kid to…” Small gestures of support that don’t involve getting the patient’s feedback first are appreciated. For example my co-workers from work sent over a gift card so I could get cooked meals from Longo’s. It was so thoughtful and unexpected. I have a long time friend that offered to shave my legs..lol.. You know who you are!!! Luckily “hair” hasn’t been a cause for concern lately.
- Read the Mood. Ask the patient what they are thinking right now or how they are doing? Balance optimism with realism. Yes, I get trying to be optimistic and understand the good intention of saying “It’s going to be ok” however things really might not be. Cancer is unknown. No one knows why one person’s cancer is cured and another with the same cancer recurs.
- Be there. Let your friend know you’re there whenever, for whatever they need. Don’t take it personally if he or she does not feel like opening up about certain things. As Karen, my soul sister knows, I rarely hold back and open up about things that she would say is way too much information. Well, yes, I even talk about bowel movements because if you didn’t know, the boss of the body is the axxhole! If that shuts down, you are in for a world of hurt. (See below)
- Text I am thinking about you. This doesn’t warrant a response if the person feels to sick to respond and reminds the person that you care about them. If the patient wants to respond and give you details on test results or symptoms….they can.
- Normal Conversation and Updates about yourself. A good friend wants to know what is going on with you, good or bad. If it’s bad, no need to say it’s not like what you are going through, no sense reminding them that you realize your life is easier right now. Keep it real and normal.
- Don’t forget to Listen. I got this one from my brother-in-law Ted. Rather than offering superficial optimism or talk about some voodoo, herbal or alternate therapy options that worked for your great Aunt Nelly, let the patient lead the conversation or just sit in comfortable silence.
I often think about my sister-in-law Ann who battled lung cancer and passed away in February 2016. Ann put on a brave face and had a very optimistic attitude. I realize how much she must of internalized and didn’t really talk about. I think about my brother–in-law Gord who was diagnosed shortly after his wife, Ann, with lung cancer himself. We just lost him in November 2017. We hung out with Gord and Ann most weekends for over 25 years or so. I often wish I could have done more for them and miss them everyday. Mike still mourning and then hearing about my diagnosis was more upset than I was. On the one hand, I was relieved he was upset because if he smiled and decided to invoke the pillow pact…not sure how I would have reacted. So true to Annette form, I shouted that he had to be my rock and snap out of it! I point blank told him I couldn’t spare any energy to cheer him up as I needed what I had for myself. He isn’t overly happy but is maintaining a positive attitude and is definitely there for me… Plus I am truly blessed by the number of good friends and close family members that surround me.
I would just say don’t get too worried about what to say or what you said, just be there and be open to the cancer conversation. Some people may be more sensitive than others so try to put yourself in their shoes if you can..
On another note, I am in disbelief and truly saddened by the horrific attack today at Yonge and Finch in Toronto. My thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families and to those that witnessed the tragedy first hand. Much praise to the officers and health care workers..
My favorite story and why I said the Boss of the body is the Axxhole..
When the Body was First Made,
All Its Parts Wanted to be Boss…
THE BRAIN SAID : Since I control everything and do all the work I should be boss.
THE FEET SAID: Since I carry man where he wants to go and get him to do what the Brain wants, I should be boss.
THE HANDS SAID: Since I must do all the work and earn all the money to keep all the rest of you going, I should be boss.
THE EYES SAID: Since I must look out for all of you and tell you where danger lurks, I should be boss.
And so it went with the Heart, the Ears, and the Lungs.
Finally the Asshole spoke up and demanded that he be boss. All the other parts laughed and laughed at the idea of an asshole being boss.
The Asshole was so angered that he blocked himself off and refused to function. Soon the Brain was feverish, the Eyes crossed and ached, the Feet were too weak to walk, the Hands hung limply at his side, the Heart and Lungs struggled to keep going.
All pleaded with the Brain to relent and let the Asshole be boss, and so it happened. All parts did the work and the Asshole just bossed and passed out a lot of shit.
MORAL: You don’t have to be a brain to be boss, just an Asshole.