there is a book on the subject, written by rosanne kalick, who has survived cancer twice. it's called cancer etiquette and has gotten rave reviews on amongst cancer patients. i've been hesitant to blog about this subject until now. but i'm getting both more bold and more impatient the longer i am in treatment. and what has changed is sadly not the amount of insensitive reaction comments i'm getting.
what has changed is my willingness to expend emotional energy being polite when someone says, "oh, you have breast cancer? that's awful. you know, my (mother, aunt, friend, boss) died of cancer." i just stand there thinking, wow, that is the last thing i need to hear right now. i know it's a knee-jerk reaction, said without thinking and intended to comfort or somehow relate. of course i realize it's not malicious, not meant to be hurtful. yet if i had a dollar for every person that told me about a friend or relative that had cancer..! the painful truth is, no one can really understand what i'm going through, even if they have had cancer themselves. each person's body, treatment plan and experience is so different.
weeks ago i mentioned this breast cancer website in a post. circus of cancer. i don't know if anyone other than my mom went and read through it, but if not, you should. and not even really for me. i'm not the last person you'll know with cancer, of that i am certain. there are very specific suggestions about what to say and do to help. and a great list of what is not helpful, things one might say or do that would unwittingly make the cancer patient feel worse.
i'll be the first to admit that before breast cancer happened in my body, i probably said silly, insensitive things to someone struggling through cancer. i cringe now to think of it, wishing i knew then what i do now.
another site, chemo chicks has an extensive list of short "excuse me?!" reports from actual cancer patients. some will make you giggle, others will have you fuming. it's easy to say, well that person is just a dumbass. just let it go. as we all know from life, comments made by dumbass' and friends alike can hurt. i can tell you from my experience that fielding comments and "letting go" of the ridiculous ones takes emotional energy. energy i don't even want to spend. frankly, it keeps me from going out socially, especially into groups of people i don't know.
i've starting to feel a bit like an educator about the cancer experience. i certainly want to help teach people, in some small way through this blog, how to support anyone they may know with cancer. the best thing is to listen to the person with cancer before blurting anything out. take your cues from them.
so you may be wondering about now, what should i say or do? here's my short list of what i think is helpful:
say something like: i'm sending you good thoughts and/or praying for you. simple well wishes on a regular basis mean so much.
offer something specific: can i bring you a meal tonight? do you need help with your laundry? asking what you can do to help in general is great, but sometimes i don't even know what i need until someone suggests it.
say: i'm here if you need me, here's a list of things i could do for you if you like. it's helpful to know who to turn to for help with specific things.
offer: it's a beautiful afternoon, would you like to take a short walk with me? i need to get more exercise, but don't always have energy for talking, especially about the cancer.
i've been very blessed to have so many people reach out and help, especially after my surgeries. thank-you, everyone! now that i am in the thick of radiation, there are still needs, but i'm not always sure who to ask for what.
i'm doing better than i expected to be at this point, 13 rads done, 20 to go. yet for me to keep working (ie. paying the bills) through this emotionally and physically grueling schedule of radiation, lots of other tasks have fallen off. it's a big job feeding myself well (all organic, enough protein, regular meals), but i am doing it. housecleaning, laundry, maintaining the car, keeping my medical bills straight -all those tasks are either not getting done at all, or only minimally.