The number one thing NOT to say to someone diagnosed with cancer and what to do/say instead:
“I’m so sorry. My uncle just died of cancer and it was soooooooooooo sad.” You may be saying, “what? I would never say that” but believe me, every cancer survivor I know has had someone say something just like this. Sometimes they stop there or they may even go on to tell you more details. We understand the intention….you want to share, you want to let the person know that you “understand”. But it’s the wrong thing to say and let me tell you why. When you have cancer, it’s like this alien being inside of you that you have absolutely no control over and there’s a chance it’s killing you. Every time you even hear the word cancer it’s like a knife in the gut. Hearing about someone dying of it strikes to the core of your fear that you carry with you every hour of every day. What your friend with cancer needs to hear are survivor stories. They never failed to inspire me, to lift me up and let me know that would be me too. One of the greatest things someone did for me during my battle, was a dear friend wrote me letters and cards every month and each one always contained some news about someone she knew who made it….her nephew who had it in childhood and who was now thirty years old, her friend, her neighbor….people who were one, two, five, twenty years out from their cancer battles. It never failed to lift my spirits and help me to keep putting one foot in front of the other and to help me believe.
I was recently asked to think of some humorous chemo stories so here are a couple little “funnies”. But I’m weird, so what I think is funny might not be so for others. At any rate, you know that expression for when someone totally loses it and has a meltdown…uh oh, she’s going nuclear? Well, every single time I used the restroom in the infusion center, I could not help giggling and shaking my head at the sign in there that read, “Nuclear patients please flush twice.” I was on the phone with my cousin and he absolutely didn’t believe me saying, “it does NOT say that!” So I took this photo and sent it to him. See? I’m weird.
Another funny story….honestly there were many. Honestly, I laughed and cried every single time. Sometimes life is just so hard, so surreal…I mean you look in the mirror at your bald ass head, the dark circles under your eyes, with an IV stuck in your arm that’s pumping you with something “nuclear” and well, Baby, you just have to laugh…sometimes hysterically. I never really cried hysterically, but man the emotions are right at the surface all the time. I remember Christina Appelgate saying that during her battle she cried every single day. Yep, that’s the deal. Anyway, one of the miracles that happened during this time was that two of my oldest friends, who are normally incredibly busy women, happened to both be in a place in their lives where they actually had some down time and they generously offered to come sit with me for the latter part of chemo and then drive me home so my husband could be with our son, pick him up from school etc. Immediately after my chemo stopped, one of them went back to school full time and the other’s husband got a new job which made her a very busy mother of four again. So, I just have to acknowledge that little miracle that occurred right there 🙂
Anyway, we were kind of militant when it came to being careful about what we called “The Chemo Floor.” I had special bedroom slippers that I wore only there that I put in a plastic bag to bring home and when I was done with chemo after nine months, I threw them away! My friends had their special “chemo shoes” that they would leave outside of their homes and eventually either throw away or scour. Anything that fell on the chemo floor was a goner. My friend is sitting there going on and on, excitedly telling me of her newfound lipbalm that is incredible and she’s brought one for me. She’s telling me that it’s not greasy or sticky, it has no taste, it’s perfect. She shows it to me and goes to open it and the lid pops off like a champagne cork flying up in the air and yep, you guessed it, landed on the chemo floor. We both stare at the cap on the floor, thoughts racing through our brains, we look at each other and she tosses the whole lipbalm in the trash and we both bust out laughing. The funny thing is, I don’t remember whatever happened to the cap. It’s probably still there…it got absorbed into the chemo floor!
It sounds insane, because of course I would rather have not had cancer, but I do cherish those times….I think because of precisely that. TIME. Long, luxurious talks where we laughed, cried and shared…..long car rides. That kind of time becomes rare with your friends as we become busy parents. It reminded me of being in high school and college when you drove long distances with friends….when you stopped at an overlook to talk or to just blast U2 and look out at the city lights. Yeah, time. It’s a precious commodity.