Today I got to go for a walk with a women I know who is cancer and treatment free for over a year. She was diagnosed with a different kind of cancer, more severe, but her prognosis and outlook are outstanding. While talking and walking (a skill I am exceptionally gifted at – really the talking part, but anyway) I realized that many of us that have gone through one of these treatments or another, come out on the other side with a clarity about what is important and what isn’t. I thought today I would talk about this part of having cancer. Not so much the clarity of life part, but the clarity of what annoys me part.
I know that those of you who have not been in this situation (which I hope that you never will be) may feel awkward as to how to call someone who has been diagnosed, or what to say to them when you see him/her. Of course there is no real handbook on what to say, or how to say anything. Could you imagine Barnes and Nobles carrying book that says “Cancer Etiquette for Dummies” or “Chicken Soup for the ones that want to say the right thing to a cancer patient.” Not a best seller. And, Yes, of course everyone is different and everyone wants to hear different things, but somethings I have found to be universally true. And by universally, I am referring only to the people I have asked.
I would like to start by saying how much I appreciate the thoughts and wishes, and I know your meaning is only with the best intention. Your are trying to soothe or comfort — and I know it! Frankly, sometimes you are so off the mark though; so I thought I would have a little fun pointing out some Cancer Etiquette Faux Pas. This isn’t like Donald Trump trying to teach President Obama a lesson in Birth Right etiquette…because where would anyone get the idea that Donald Trump has any idea of what etiquette is…you know if he can’t have his named stamped on it it doesn’t exist! Oh excuse me I went of on a tangent there, but I am back now!
Ok back to our topic, what to say and what not to say and how to say it! Let me give you an example of what not to do. I got a call from someone the night before my surgery. The first no no is that she called me from a her speakerphone in her car; her windows must have been open, because I couldn’t even hear her say who it was. I explained that I we had a very bad connection. You’d think she would the say she will call later, or close her window, or do something to better enhance the “conversation ability factor” but noooooooo, she kept right on talking. Did she not really want to call, but felt she should? Anyway, her conversation consisted of her telling me how much it sucked that I had cancer, Again! How terrible she felt! How crushed she was when she heard the news! And then the phone cut out. I figured she would call right back — NEVER HEARD FROM HER AGAIN!!!!! So let’s put this out to all of you, where do you think she may have gone wrong with this conversation…Anyone? Ok here is a hint — the entire conversation pretty much failed the etiquette test, the soothing test, and the comforting test. A Triple negative — a really bad thing in Breast Cancer results by the way.
Was it just a call for affect, or was she just so uncomfortable that she did this purposefully so she didn’t have to talk to me or hear from me at all. My advice to all of you. If you don’t want to call DON’T — insincerity and bullsh** comes through in the first 5 seconds. Remember Seinfeld’s bit on taking and holding a reservation. “Just because you take a reservation doesn’t mean you know how to hold the reservation.” Same principle, just because you called to be comforting doesn’t mean that you should have called and it definitely doesn’t mean that your words were comforting. Is it really that you think hearing you say how much my diagnosis sucks, will sink in that much more? As if to say, “up until this point I was fine with getting cancer for the 2nd time, but now that so and so told me it sucks I should really rethink my position.” I call it a given that you feel my diagnosis sucks!
Another common statement I have gotten was when the caller tells me “Oh my goodness, when I heard the news I had such a hard time dealing with it!” Again, really — do you possibly think that when I got the news I just shrugged and said “oh well” then moved on. No one wants or seeks out bad news,but now i don’t only have to deal with my own cancer, but I have to feel bad for upsetting you as well! Just sayin’ I got enough on my plate, I don’t need your stuff also.
Other favorites include friends who call once and then don’t call again for two months. And then when they call they automatically let me know how much they have rearranged in there schedule to find the time to call. or they say, “I am so sorry I haven’t called, my life has just been so crazy these days.” My life isn’t crazy at all people. I got all the time in the world. I’ve just been just with an ice cold IV pumping lethal chemicals into my veins and enjoying. Really? And aside from the queasiness and feeling like crap I have all the time in the world to just sit around; so feel bad that the “my life is crazy right now” statement doesn’t sound like a load of sh**! Honestly, I understand that you can’t call every day or week or even month, but don’t blame it on a busy life. I get it, we all find it hard to find time and that is okay. I understand busy lives. But maybe after you upload the pictures of you sitting around watching your kids baseball game to facebook, you can make a quick call to say hi!
And the last and most important is a statement that I know is truly well meaning, just no well implemented. “What can I do for you?” Don’t ask me, because I am a martyr and will say nothing. Tell me what you are doing. “I am bringing dinner Thursday, or I am picking up your dry cleaning Friday, or for the next month you have full use of my housekeeper to do your laundry, cooking, cleaning, driving your kids around. Now that would be awesome!!! So put that in your books as a great gift!!!!
Seriously though, I appreciate and love all of the well wishes. You don’t have to call and talk about the cancer. Frankly, that is why I have the blog, so I don’t have to talk about it 24/7. Call me about the weather, or American Idol, or the Royal Wedding (because yes, I am obsessed wit the Royals) Or just call to say hi! And no matter when it is or how long it has been since I last heard from you doesn’t matter. I am just glad to hear from you.
Speak to you soon.