Hey friend, can we have a chat about how you respond when someone tells you that they are a cancer fighter or survivor? This might make you cringe, or hurt your feelings, but whatever you do, please don’t call and apologize if you’ve said this to me. I have chemobrain, and all is forgotten (and forgiven).
This is a grace-filled conversation for your benefit and for the benefit of those you will meet in the future. I love my cancer-fighting brothers and sisters, and I want to help you respond to them with the love and support they need. So I’m having this hard conversation out of love for you and for them.
Here we go . . .
I’ve noticed that many times when I tell people I had cancer, their first question goes something like this: “How did you find out you had it? Did you have symptoms? Did you find a lump?”
I understand this reaction. I know I’ve reacted the same way when I’ve heard about someone else’s suffering. For most of us, our first response is to any piece of news is to wonder how it relates to ourselves.
If you wonder how I know this, it is because I am the most selfish person on this planet. I relate everything to myself. God is working on me in this, but I’ve got a long way to go. In the meantime, I get it. I understand why people respond this way to the news that a healthy, 34-year-old mom could suddenly be plagued by a rare, life-threatening disease.
But when I have this interaction with someone, it feels like this conversation happened:
Me: “I went through something hard. It was life-changing and difficult. It still affects me. I’m bringing you into my pain by sharing this with you.”
The Other Person: “I’m scared of this hard thing happening to me. What if it’s happening now, and I don’t realize it? Holy crap! I’m doing monthly self-exams. Please tell me that you weren’t, so I can feel better.”
Listen, I don’t want you worrying about the times you have responded this way to someone’s cancer story, especially if it was mine. (I seriously don’t remember.)
But now that you know, you can respond differently next time. I want my cancer-fighting sisters to have you hear their story and respond with love and compassion.
When someone tells you they have/had cancer, first have the “holy-crap-I-hope-that-doesn’t-happen-to-me” moment inside your head. Then focus on the person who has just shared their pain and show your concern for their current well-being.
If the diagnosis is recent, you could ask them how they’re feeling today, how they’re coping with the news, or how they are feeling about the next steps. If their story is in the past, ask them how they’ve grown or changed as a result, how their health is today, or what they’d like others to know about their experience.
Thanks for helping to love our cancer-fighters better. It’s a tough road to navigate, and we need to stick together. They deserve our very best support!Share
Evelyn Stilwell says
This is so insightful and honest, Marissa. And helpful. GLAD you are writing this! Wow. Would that we all become wiser through difficulties we face!
Thank you for sharing this Marissa! Looking forward to more posts. This is definitely an area I would like to grow in.