Monday, October 24, 2011

Cancer Etiquette: If You Know Someone With Cancer, Please Read

OK, grab your Miss Manners book and turn to the chapter on "How to Behave Around People With Cancer." Gotcha! It's not in there is it?! Nope. So, I guess I'll just have to write one. Don't worry. It will be short. All you really need to remember is three little words:

Talk to us

Let's flesh that out.

TALK to us.
That's right. Don't ignore us, don't look away. TALK. To us. We know we have cancer. It's no secret. If we have a bald head, we know it. If we wear compression garments, we put them on. I wear a compression sleeve and glove on my left arm and hand. Often people will ask about it. Often they, for some reason, assume I've burned myself. A lot of times, however, people will get uneasy when they notice it. They'll look at it, look at me, and the look on their face says, "Does she know she's got that on?" Not only do I know I've got it on (I mean, really. How could someone else stealthily put that on me?), but I did it myself, I know why, and I'll happily tell you all about it. Ask.

If you truly do not know what to say to someone dealing with any issue about cancer, instead of saying nothing, try this: "How are you?" Or, "I've been thinking about you." Or, "I remember you in prayer." Or, "I don't know what to say but I'm here if you need me." If you don't know what to say, we do. Just give us an opening, and we'll help you out. Promise.

One hint of what not to say: Don't speak in terms of us losing our battle. We're winners (see blog post "Loser? I Think Not" right below this one). Don't speak in terms of us failing trials. As has been pointed out, we don't fail the trials, the trials fail us...there is still much to learn about cancer. And, unless we are actively dying, unless we bring up "death" don't you. Talk in terms of "fighting" and about "hope." You're going to die one day, too. If you really want to go there, we'll go there. We're not afraid to talk about death and I guarantee you we've got a different perspective from you, but again, unless we know you well and want to talk about it with you, we won't. There are other things to talk about.

Talk TO us.
That's right. Don't talk about us, don't talk around us. Talk. TO us. We know our condition and our treatments, etc, better than anyone. Ask us and we'll tell you. Ask someone else and there's no telling what you'll be told. It may be accurate or it may not be. We are still people. We can still carry on conversations and they do not have to be about cancer. We know about the weather as well. If we cannot speak (seriously), then ask who lives in the house with us about us. They will know. Again, if you ask anyone else that doesn't share a house with us, even if they are close relatives, there's no telling what you'll be told. Promise

Talk to US.
That's right. Don't talk to everybody else, don't talk to the dog. Talk. To US. We're here! We didn't get cancer and slip off into some alternate universe (though cancerworld is very different from anything else we've encountered and it may not be part of your world). Learn our stories. Look at us and understand that you could be looking into a mirror. Promise.

One day you may well bump into us in cancerworld and we'll help you in any way we can. Promise.

One day you may understand this cancer etiquette from the other side of it. Promise.

Right now, it's my turn to help you understand it. I don't mind. It's part of my journey and one reason I'm here.

And I am grateful.