Sometimes cancer survivors do not realize how hard it is for other people to know what to say. We need to educate them!
Recently a friend came to me with a difficult question. He knew I had written several articles for CURE® and was a cancer survivor myself. He was worried about offending me but he did the exact opposite.
He explained that he had several friends who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. He is an intelligent and sensitive man. He said he would like to help them but didn’t know how. He was afraid it was intrusive to ask about cancer if they didn’t want to talk about it. However, he wanted them to know he cared and wondered how to handle the situation.
I thanked him for caring and then thought over my answer carefully. I suggested that every one of us is unique and at a different stage of our battle. However, it is helpful to tell his friends that if they want to talk about it, he is there. He can listen and not intervene or judge. They can benefit from permission to rant, cry, be angry and do whatever they find cathartic for them. If he supports them, they can open up when they are ready. I cautioned him not to say things like, “You have already lived longer than you were supposed to.” A medical professional said this to me once and upset me greatly. Statements like this just cause us to clam up. My friend thanked me and left pondering over what I told him.
I thought this scenario over later and realized something important. No one has ever said these exact words to me. They ask how I am feeling and show care and concern. But like most of us survivors, I try to put on a strong face and be upbeat. I think constantly about the people who are worse off than I am. But what I would appreciate just once is someone permitting me to rant. To explain how much becoming profoundly deaf has impacted me. To share how much I miss my former life. To bemoan how tired I am of the weekly visits to the hospital and being poked and prodded. To just be able to break down and cry.
I would eventually pick myself up and go on. But it would be so nice to do this cathartic act once in a blue moon. Meanwhile, I examined my own words. I do say to other friends, “How are you really doing?” But I also need to go one step further because maybe today is a good day and positive, but tomorrow may change. I should tell them that no matter what – I am listening. I need to say that I will not interrupt or judge. I will just be there.
It dawns on me that having cancer is like many other losses. We can’t assume others know what to say or do. We need to educate them and explain how we feel. I bless this wonderful man who cared enough to ask. We cancer survivors also should find people like him who care, then suggest how they can help, and be there for each other. We don’t need to jump in with our experiences when others need to talk about theirs. We need to support and listen. Above all, no one – and I mean no one – can do this journey alone. We need to reach out for help and hold someone’s hand. And that is enough.