What the Hell Do You Say to Me When You Know I Have Cancer?

I had one of the most touching messages from a friend tonight, and it really made me think. She had a heartfelt   apology for not being in touch because of fear of saying something wrong….not the first friend that has expressed that to me. She had sent me a link to an article on the above artist, Emily McDowell, who is also a cancer survivor and has now begun creating empathy cards saying she felt they all applied.

Should it be my job to lighten the load of others by telling them what to say or what I need? 

YES!!!!! HELL YES!!!!

I went to Emily’s website to check out her cards, since she is a cancer survivor she should know what I am feeling, clearly. Nope! Some of them I agree with and understand whole heartedly and others not so much. Each cancer diagnosis and prognosis and treatment and individual body is as unique as the individual. For me this is a journey, something for me to learn from, for her (from her cards) it would seem that was not her perspective.

I didn’t know how I would react or feel….sometimes I still don’t.

And if I don’t know how are the people in my life supposed to know…even, or especially, the ones that I call my friends.

How much information I would want to know and study on to be prepared for what comes my way versus why put the notion into my head that something can or will happen and have me dwell on it. 

For example, I was told I will lose my hair…it may be in the shower, my brush, or clumps on my pillow in the morning. I was told it can happen within 2 to 3 weeks of starting treatment. I am, as of today, a total of 22 days and 4 treatments in and still have my hair, though I do believe it may actually be starting to thin a bit as each time I brush it I THINK I am seeing more hair come out (or is it just paranioa…who knows). My point with this is that I was told that my hair will fall out, so each time I brush it I am studying to see if it is more shedding than usual, when roll over at night and scoop it out from under my pillow   and around my neck I am conscious of also checking to see if it is still attached because the idea was planted it will come out. This has happened since even before treatment, only the thought then was I won’t have hair to do this with in a short time.
So for me, please don’t highlight the side effects that may come my way. 

It is the one simple question “How are you?” or “How are you feeling?” or “How are you doing?”. 

It doesn’t need to be followed up with “still no nausea?” Or “nasea is the worst 3 days after treatment”. Believe me, if it is happening I will probably let you know….or I will chose not to because I don’t want to focus on it, but by leaving a very simple open question hanging there it gives me the opportunity to say as little or as much as I want to say, need to say, or have the energy to go into at that moment. It is almost like there should be a safe word to stop the questions or conversation about cancer and sickness and all that negative focus if it is just the wrong time to ask…no hurt feelings over it allowed. You would know it is not you and you have not offended me, it is just not the topic I am energetic enough to focus on, nor does it mean I never want you to ask me again, just not now.

In fact, I like that idea so much that from here forth I am going to initiate it. So, if we are chatting and you ask about my cancer or treatment and I respond with “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” please don’t be offended but just understand it is not what I want to talk about at the moment. I promise you I am not offended that you have cared enough to ask….I just want to focus on shooting the breeze about other things. Nor does it mean never ask me again, just let me be free of it in this moment.

What silly thing did your pet or child or significant other or coworker do, has spring sprung today and do we get to keep it until summer, what awesome deal did you get on  ____________, who did you run into or what made your day. 

Or if it is a tough day and you hug me and I start to cry don’t let go, just hug me….I will probably try to break that hug and be strong and sometimes in that moment it is not about saying or doing anything but just letting me know it is okay for me to lean on your strength and not be strong all of the time.

Don’t stop sharing your life and experiences, triumphs and challenges, with me. If it is important to you my friends it is important to me, and if you back off those conversations with me because they may seem trivial or you don’t want to make me feel bad about where I am at or that I may be missing out trust me you are right….I am then missing out on sharing your life with you and that is my favorite thing. 

If you bring me food, or want to come and cook in my kitchen, stay with me to feast together. I don’t know how stimulated your appetite is when eating alone, but mine is definitely not so much at the best of times.

If you want ideas on what to bring me your time for a little visit, know companionship is the best! Trust me, I would much rather you pop in for an extra 20 minutes empty handed than spending that time in line at a coffee shop to bring me a treat. I may or may not know of anything material to bring…if that truly makes you uncomfortable to come  “empty handed”, perhaps the cancer society would or maybe I should google “what to bring a cancer patient”, but sincerely the best thing is just your time for a little visit. 

 I still believe in this quote above, but I am learning now that maybe my friends also need me to be a friend first. And that, in the dictionary according to Glenna, now includes my communicating what I need to you. Everyone has their strong suits, everyone has their fears, but I guarantee you this….even if you ask me something that may upset me or hover over me too much and “threaten” my independence or I ask you to do something for me or stop doing something, I will know first and foremost it is because I am cared for that you are here for me in the first place and I will not be offended. I just ask the same of you.

And so, I chose today to focus on this next quote…..  

Have I been your friend today? Have you been a friend and let others know what you need? My wish for you today is that you are loved enough to have those in your life ask you “stupid questions”, not because they don’tcare but because they do.

With much love and friendship,

But seriously,  please don’t ask me if I have had nausea and thrown up yet!😉

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