Cancer pushes everybody’s buttons differently. For some it’s a scary “what if it happened to me?” For others it’s an all too present reminder of the traumatic experience of a family member or close friend.
In Cancer World you learn quickly that everyone’s experience with cancer is different and you can’t judge people by their response to your affliction. You can only count on the fact that it is probably scary for them and at the very least emotionally charged so you just have to give them grace.
I appreciate the “cool kids” who come with a joke. Or at least an attempt at one. I have always felt “whistling through the graveyard” is the best way to get to the other side. It acknowledges that – “yes, you are up shit creek,” but that doesn’t mean the journey can’t involve bits of inspired slapstick and at least the occasional fart joke.
The “medical geeks” are okay too. The ones who drill you with a million questions about symptoms, side effects and come off just a little bit creepy when they ask to see your surgical site. Usually, these are people who watch far too many medical shows and may or may not have practiced advanced medical techniques on their cats using duct tape and a Swiss Army knife.
I can even handle the “It could be worse people.” There are certain people in this world who feel that true empathy is pointing out how utterly awful things could be and actually are for someone else they know. “So sorry, you have cancer Don. But it could be worse. My friend was mauled by a bear who ate eighty percent of his body and now his wife has to roll him around in a Tonka truck.”
The only ones I can’t handle? The ones who come at you with the dreaded… “sad eyes.”
They slink up with droopy faces and speak slowly as if talking to a child, or a foreign exchange student. “How are youuuuuu?” No matter how upbeat your response their reaction is almost always – “Ahhh!” Now again, I try to give them grace, but sister, it ain’t always easy. Nothing reminds you of your own mortality like someone who appears to be practicing to greet your loved ones at your funeral. “He looked so healthy. Up until the end where he lost all that weight and his wife had to roll him around in a Tonka Truck.”
The point is, in the bottom of the ninth with the game on the line, you don’t want someone stopping by the on deck circle with a macaroni casserole. You want someone swatting you on the ass and offering you his or her lucky bat.
Look, its not easy having cancer, but I know it’s certainly no picnic being the friend or family member either. You don’t know what to say or do. You don’t know if you should be present or keep your distance. If you should send flowers or a whoopee cushion. Well, speaking for cancer patients everywhere I can only say… we can’t help you.
Because we don’t know. We’ve never been through this before either so we don’t always know what we want or need. The only real solution is the hardest – to be completely honest. To do what you want to do, when you want to do it. To say what you feel, when you feel it. To ask for help when you need it.
There are no right answers in Cancer World, but that also means that there are few wrong ones. Except for “sad eyes” which are universally unwelcome and macaroni casseroles, which are not gluten free and bad for my colon.