Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Cancer & 10 things I try not to say

I read the following post some time ago:
 10 things not to say to a Cancer Patient (source Blogg post by Suleika Jaouad) 
along with a couple of others just like it, and they hit a nerve. I have had many of the things on this list and some that aren't, said to me, since Brendan's diagnosis - and I know he has too. 
I have added my own list below. 

But here's the thing...I'm pretty sure I have also been the classic "relay a similar story back to the person telling me theirs" when talking with friends that may have gone through something difficult. It may not have related to cancer, but I know I have probably said the wrong thing at the wrong time to someone at some stage. Why? Because I wanted that person to know that I truly get what they're going through or had been through ...I wanted to show them that I can empathise...that I feel their pain!

My intentions are good, but guess what? I don't, didn't and haven't felt what they's just not possible. How could I, unless I have walked in their shoes across their exact same path. On reflection; I feel bad for every time I have nodded sympathetically and said to someone - "I know how you feel."  Because I didn't. I would never want to diminish what someone else is going through...but fear I may have at times, unknowingly.

It is only through experience, and tucking those experiences away, that I can draw on my inner wisdom and do better next time. I understand only too well now, that I don't have to feel someone else's pain to let them know that I care about what they are going through. I just have to be there, and do what I can to help. And the best way for me to do that is to ask what it is that they need from me,  listen, and believe them when they tell me...

Here are 10 things I have had said to me in relation to Brendan and cancer, that I will try never to say to a Cancer patient....and my thoughts on why.

  1. He's Lucky... to have friends and family around - a better form of cancer as in "at least it's not "...." - to live in a country with great facilities etc... "All true except for maybe the "better cancer", but I don't think anyone with cancer feels particularly lucky,  grateful, yes!.... But Lucky, I doubt it."
  2. It could be worse... "Yes it could, but when you wake up every morning with one leg and a part of your lung missing, reminders of how much worse things can get are unnecessary!"
  3. Have you smoothies, pumpkin seeds, apricot kernels, beetroot juice...list goes on. "If only it were that simple when you're facing an aggressive, life threatening disease. Healthy eating is a no brainer. Sick or not, we should all be doing it! If it was an all round cure for cancer...well there would be no cancer patients."  
  4. Mentioning anyone else's cancer diagnosis and treatment failure... "as well meaning as this is, in my experience it just doesn't help."
  5. At least you're still alive...not everyone's that lucky... "No one knows this better than a cancer patient...they don't need survivor guilt on top of everything else they are going through".
  6. At least it's not in the bone, brain or other ... ! "You don't know that not to say."
  7. What caused it? Lifestyle is not always a factor when it comes to Cancer, and even if you think it not to say it out loud - the price is being paid...try not to add salt to the wound, especially if it is not going to help. If you can, keep this question to yourself.
  8. It's awful seeing little kids with cancer... "yes it most definitely is - and again no-one knows this better than an adult cancer patient. It's awful seeing anyone with cancer."
  9. But he was so fit... " it doesn't matter if you're fit or lazy, rich or poor, catholic or buddhist - cancer is doesn't care who you are"
  10. Is it terminal ... "if this information hasn't been offered up...I doubt it's appropriate to ask"
Things are always easier to understand in hindsight...

Please don't be hard on yourself if you have said anything similar to any of the above, to someone with cancer... it's one of those things you may not have even realise you've said until after the fact. Generally a patient will understand the good intentions behind most questions. I'm glad though that I now have a better understanding of what not to say.

On the question of what to say...a very simple "I'm sorry" I think is absolutely Ok. If you can offer practical help - that's fabulous, and remember although cancer is a big part of a patient's life now, it doesn't define them and isn't all they are. They will still enjoy talking about most of the stuff they have always enjoyed talking about. Staying in contact in the same way you always have... is one of the best things to do.

NB: Because I have shared our story publicly at; a lot of these comments and those similar have come from strangers and acquaintances that have become friends within my blogging tribe. I am grateful for their participation and look forward to more discussions ...I know that they will all enjoy this post, as in general we have discussed these points before :)

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