Thursday, March 2, 2017

12 Things to Say to Someone with Cancer

I saw this piece a few days ago, and it reminded me of times past: "12 Text Messages to Send to Someone with Cancer."

I used to see a lot of messages like this, about things to say to people with cancer, and things not to say. I noticed them a lot more back when I was closer to my diagnosis, probably because people used to say things to me that were not always well thought-out.

So this one brings back some memories -- not always good memories, but in some ways, it's nice to think about how far I have come in 9 years. Physically and emotionally, I have come a long way. Things don't bother me as much as they used to.

Here are some of the things I like about this list:

  • I don’t know what to say, but please know I’m always here for you.
I think that one is important to mention. I really do think that people mean well, even when they say things that end up being hurtful. (I have lots of examples of this happening to me, especially Chemo Horror Stories. I think they were trying to say "I hope this doesn't happen to you," but it didn't come out that way.) But sometimes, there's just no way to say what you're feeling, and it's OK to come out and say that. I'm not sure the "I'm always here for you" is the best follow-up, but that's OK, because some others solve that problem......
  •  I’m headed to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you and your family? 
  • I made dinner for your family. When can I drop it off? Note: It tastes great even if it has been frozen.  

These are great, not just because they involve food. They offer something real. It's easy to say "Let me know if there's anything you need," because for a lot of patients, they don't know where to begin asking for things. But a definite suggestion, like running an errand or offering a meal -- that means something. A a cancer patient, I don't have to do the work of thinking about what to ask for. The most helpful thing to offer is something specific.
  • I just found this great new Earl Grey tea. Can I stop by to share a cup with you?
Same thing here: a cup of tea is something I can understand. But so is an open ear. I don't remember people avoiding me after I was diagnosed, but I've heard plenty of stories from cancer patients who lost friends, because those "friends" didn't know what to say or do, or just couldn't handle the emotions of the situation. An offer of a cup of tea and a friendly face, maybe a hand to hold -- for a lot of people, that's a pretty great thing.

But really, the best thing about the article is the advice to do all of this by text.

Technology is a wonderful thing. The internet puts so much information within easy reach for us. It allows us to share information with one another. As much as cancer treatments have changed in 10 years, the way we get information has changed (for the better) just as much.

Remember, the whole reason I started this blog all those years ago was because I knew it would be easier to let people know what was happening with me. I knew people would be curious, but "wouldn't want to bother us." Or they might get the wrong information about my condition from someone who didn't have the whole story.  By sending out a web address, people could check for themselves, and hear it straight from me.

As the article says, technology also gives us some distance. Technology is fascinating that way -- it connects us and separates us at the same time. A text message, rather than phone call, gives the patient some time to respond, to think about what to say. Maybe that cup of tea isn't the best idea right now. Maybe that meal (or any meal) just doesn't sound good. Maybe a visit is the last thing someone wants. It's a a lot easier to say No by text than by phone, or face-to-face.

I discovered this early on. If I knew I was going to meet up with someone who didn't know about my diagnosis, I made sure to email them and let them know, before we met up. I wanted them to have time to process it in their own way. I learned this lesson the hard way. I mentioned to someone at work that I had cancer. It was someone who had already received an email about it, and apparently didn't read it. She broke down in tears in front of me, sobbing about what my kids would do if anything happened to me. This was exactly the last thing I needed to be thinking about that day.

I learned the lesson -- technology creates enough distance now to let us get closer later on.

So if you're in that state, where people don't know what to say to you, or worse, they're saying the wrong thing, I recommend you post that article on your Facebook page, or send it out to your email list. Maybe someone will get the hint.

But mostly, have patience with them. They haven't had the life-changing experience of being a cancer patient. They're probably just not as strong as you are.....

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