I’d say for the first 4 months after diagnosis, cancer was the only thing I thought about. Even when I thought about something else, I thought about it in relation to cancer. It consumed my every single thought. So when I would run into somebody that didn’t know about the diagnosis, I couldn’t ever think of anything else to talk about.
Some people responded very strangely to the news, though, when I told them. Most people would be shocked, or worried, or both, but some people… Some people would totally ignore it. Like I never said it. Or they’d act like “I have cancer” is a normal thing to say. Or worse, some people would mark that as the end of the conversation. “Ok, well, I got to go,” they’d say hurriedly. Or they’d change the subject immediately. The news would just send them directly into fight or flight mode, and they’d start running. It was interesting.
It’s such awful news, that there’s bound to be some inappropriate responses to it.
The worst, I thought, was when someone knew about it, but would play dumb until I told them. They’d ask me what I’m up to and then stare at me. It would be the stare that would give them away. They’d just be too interested in my response. So I’d hint at it a bit, “oh, I haven’t been feeling that well,” or, “well, things have been better…” Hoping they’d just say, “yes, I heard.” But instead, they’d say, “oh?” So I’d have to go through the mix of emotions that always came whenever I’d have to tell someone that I had cancer.
And once I went through all that, they’d say, “oh, yeah, I know.” Still staring. Waiting for the show I guess.
Everyone, let me explain how you should respond to someone who just got diagnosed with cancer:
• Do not ignore them. Do not stop calling them because suddenly you don’t know what to say. Do not try to avoid them in social situations because you are uncomfortable.
• Go up to them. Call them. E-mail them. Tell them, first, that you heard about the cancer. Tell them second that you think it sucks and you’re sorry to hear about it.
• Don’t talk about your uncle who died of the same cancer. Don’t talk about how your whole family has had cancer, and you’ll probably die of it, too. Don’t talk about how many people die of it every year. Don’t talk about death.
• Don’t talk about how you once got diagnosed with pneumonia, so you can understand what it’s like. No you can’t. Don’t try. Tell them you can’t even imagine what it’s like to go through something like this.
• Do not talk about the alternative medicine that you read about in Crazy Monthly, that is sure to cure them of their disease. Don’t tell them that their treatment isn’t good for them, and that lot’s of people end up dying from the treatments, or that chemotherapy is just a big conspiracy between the government and the pharmaceutical companies, etc., etc. Don’t tell them how they got it. Just stop. They don’t need to hear about it.
• If they are sad about it, don’t tell them that they shouldn’t be sad. They have a right to be sad, or exhausted, or whatever it is they feel. Don’t tell them what to do.
• Ask them about the treatment – then listen to the response. It might be a long response, with a lot of medical terms. Listen anyway. It’s all they probably think about right now, anyway, so just let them talk about it.
• Give them a hug, or a handshake, or a pat on the back. Touch them somehow. Tell them that you’re concerned for them, and you’re looking forward to them being a cancer survivor.
• Do not give them the line, “if there’s anything I can do just tell me…”, unless you are absolutely certain that you would do ANYTHING for them. Just don’t say it. Because most people don’t mean it. If you really want to do something for them, come up with the idea yourself, and then do it. Send them flowers, or a book, or bring over dinner for them.