No one says it better than Al in this clip from the Godfather 3.
So you’re home back to living your life..back to the normalcy you longed for while going through treatment, you’re invited to a cocktail party looking all glam and feeling good when someone has to bring up the fact that you had cancer. In a second, everyone’s demeanor around you changes and you become the “sick” one…the one to be pitied..the one whose hand is touched and you are giving that “knowing, concerned” look and then everyone tells you, Oh my friend has cancer and then goes on to describe their own cancer story. All you wanted to do was have a glass of wine and enjoy yourself or discuss the new George Clooney movie or not talk at all. But you are drawn back in….. talking about the very thing that you were trying to put behind you.
Is what you went through something public to be talked about? Is it what you want to make your life all about? There are what I call professional survivors who take what they had and make it their whole life going forward – give speeches, start charities, run races, wear hats and ribbons and support each other and then there is the other extreme, like my Grandmother, who on the last day of her treatment said it’s over now and I don’t want to talk about it. I am kind of in the middle – probably a little toward professional since I have had a bit of press surrounding the blog you are reading now. Still that doesn’t mean that I want defined as the “one who had cancer.” Shoot, I wrote a play based on the porn film, Debbie Does Dallas, that toured the world…isn’t that much more fun to discuss.
I actually never even felt sick (except for the rash) so I never saw myself as a victim or someone to be thought about in anyway special.. only others did and do…
Michael J. Fox is starring in a new sitcom and he was interviewed for the Guardian. One thing he said struck me: ‘Nobody pities me and that’s great. I couldn’t stand it.’ And that brings me back to the “look.” It says, “you had cancer and I feel sorry for you.” Shit happens to people and most people just get on with it. I was at a dinner party and out of five girls: one’s mother died, one’s husband is gravely ill, one had problems conceiving, and a dear friend of mine is having a liver transplant as I am writing this. For some reason cancer gets the look.
So for all of you out there who have a friend going through anything, I read this great article in Allure Magazine, June 2013 – How to Help a Sick Friend by Letty Cottin Pogrebin. She has some great advice.
Stop by: She says you should come for a visit. I agree but only if the person really wants you. Don’t come by unexpectedly…dropping in is not so good if you haven’t drawn on your eyebrows and you look and feel kind of scary.
Listen carefully: Some people don’t want to hear everything so make sure you if you come round that you want to hear all the nitty gritty.
Know what NOT to say: This is the most important part! People had such a hard time knowing what to say and do and Letty Pogrebin has got it so right here. The last thing you want to be asked is “How are you?” It should be obvious how you are. The last thing you want to talk about is how you are. You want to talk about the George Clooney movie, etc. You also don’t want talk about how you look – you know how you look (No eyebrows and all that). The worst was being told that there was a reason I got Lymphoma and to discover what that was and fix it. Make sure your belief system is the same as your friend or that friendship is not going to last through this.
Tune In: what I said above – stop reminding me that I was sick!
Make Yourself Useful: Do stuff to help your friend.
THE GOODS: Check out her book if you want to know more: How to be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick
That’s my rant for this post. Next time – we just have to talk about HAIR!
If you have a chance, check out the Irish Daily Mail!
… or how about the “you’re so brave” comments? This one always makes me squirm because, what choice did I have? Of course I’m going to go through the operations & radiation. There were instances where my “inner child” wanted to leap off the gurney and run away before being wheeled in to the OR. “You’re so resigned” would be more apt.
God Bless ’em though ~ Cancer is so freakin’ awkward!