Christmas time and New Years can be a social minefield of joy. It’s great that in the last two weeks of the year, all the triumph's of the past 12 months get together for one last hurrah. Now, add your diagnosis of cancer to the mix. How do you interact with everyone else — not just over the eggnog at that caroling party, but from here on in? What do you say that’s genuinely helpful when the whole situation is freaking them out?
I know that it’s hard for you too; I really do. In addition to dealing with my plasmacytoma diagnosis this spring, that so far has been unsuccessfully treated, I have in the past year watched as three of my blog readers get cancer and the guy who is peer pressuring me beyond the grave to get an iPad 2, Steve Jobs, of couse died. It can be a picnic loving someone when your life on the line. Because you’re not helpless. And if you’re wringing your hands wondering how to handle yourself, Cancer Man is here to offer a few simple guidelines. When in doubt about how to behave, stick to the basic rule of thumb that it’s about you AND them. Let me expand.
Rule 1: This is a great time to be emotionally supportive.
Honesty is a wonderfully powerful way to be. If you are lucky you'll have good acquaintances, true friends and family who care and because they don't want to lose you they will be scared. Let them know you love them, that you will do all you can do enjoy your time with them. Hear out their fears and if they're up for it they'll hear out yours. Everyone's in a different head space, because of that I've learned (and am still learning) the hard way to never judge people. Just as they aren't walking in your shoes, you're not walking theirs.
Rule 2: It’s a wonderful time to be social.
Hospitals can be a wonderful place. I will always, always remember my baby girl, Myrtle being born in the one I get my CT Scans. Faith invariably says each time we're there "Can you believe Myrtle was born here just ___ months ago?"
Another fond memory was being relieved that when I was 10 years old my older brother Jason, who was knocking on heaven's door was brought back to health for being treated for juvenile diabetes. At the other hospital in town I'm often reminded that is where I spent some of my most sacred time with family as my grandfather passed. Hallowed ground indeed.
You'll make new memories at your hospital, bring family and friends when you can, and while you are there be a friend to staff and other patients.
It doesn’t take big gestures. I've learnt from Myrtle, a smile goes a long way. A lot of people won't want to step on your toes, just as you weren't prepared for cancer, they weren't either, so take it easy on them by cutting them slack.
Rule 3: It's YOUR dramatic life event, an opportune to bring closure.
If you think this is a good moment to crawl out of the woodwork to say sorry or express a few positive things you wish you’d said after a long ago family falling out, it is! One day will be too late, life is way, way, too short to hold a grudge or put off actually saying "I love you." Even if it's to my older, huge, bearded, bear of size brothers who might look intimidating but are really the best friends anyone could hope for. Or even my youngest brother who can't grow a beard yet.
Rule 4: Remember people care and might wonder like you have, "Why?".
Like you, others might wonder what caused this cancer, because of course there was a cause. That's the gazillion dollar question, right? Who can blame anyone for asking. If you had a habit of huffing asbesto dust and you got lung cancer, say "I reckon the 'besto got me." Other then that, "Heaven knows, but while I'm here I might never know. The important thing is I have a game plan (or about to get one) so heaven can wait a little longer."
Rule 5: Similarly, talk about your treatment.
Own it, don't pwn it.
I was worried people would feel awkward, that my treatment, it's side effects would inconvenience them on some level. Now, I own it. I just say this is what I'm doing and remember that people ask mainly because they care.
Who cares if people ask to be gossipy? Own it!
It's empowering to be open, shed fear and if you sense they are uncomfortable, use the Golden Rule and provide a little comfort - isn't that what you would want?
Rule 6: Be hasty with the best-case scenarios.
People without cancer appreciate your positivity and encouragement. If you die being wrong about getting better, don't worry they'll forgive you at some point.
It's not about being hasty only to others, be hastily optimistic to your self too. I don't mean to lie per se, but enjoy the day, embrace the days your alive.
For example my best case long term scenario is that with Faith, I get to raise Myrtle into adulthood.
Best case short term? This blog has less grammatical errors then yesterday, I enjoy a healthy lunch and have a wonderful evening with Faith and Myrtle when they come home. In the meantime I eagerly await a call from my oncologist with a game plan.
Rule 7: On the other hand, don’t be a downer.
Statistics are helpful but they don't define you anymore than your height does.
I cried last night, but I laughed too.
Rule 8: Patrick Swayze's cancer is not your cancer.
Why on earth would your family and friends be experts on your cancer and treatment? They all wouldn't be, so relax and be thankful many people care enough to ask you what's going on. Their only frame of reference might be Patrick Swayze's cancer. I certainly wasn't an expert beforehand and don't expect others to be either.
Rule 9: Be useful.
Don't wait around for people to serve you, if you can serve others and yourself, do it.
Rule 10: And this is the most crucial – be guided by the person’s cues.
As you may be painfully aware, not everyone knows what to say or how to act. I can't count how many people who have said something like "I didn't want to bombarde with cancer talk." Granted they might have said that because I may have complained about being bombarded in a previous blog. Now I don't mind, bombs away!
Just as a pregnancy is welcomed news, bringing life's greatest joy - LIFE! - a diagnosis of cancer is on the other end of the spectrum. People want you around and the thought of losing you is a compliment to how awesome you are. So thank them for their concern and be grateful they liked you before it was cool.