I think it’s natural to be more sensitive to certain pieces of information based on what’s happening in your life. A good example of this is when you’re worried about being pregnant or stressed about not being pregnant and it seems like every commercial on TV is for babies, pregnancy tests, diapers, etc. Same goes for cancer. Your ears all of a sudden become specially tuned for all things cancer related. Some things I have heard:
- This year 100,500 Canadian men and 96,400 Canadian women will be diagnosed with cancer
- On average, 539 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer every day.
- Lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer are the most common types of cancer in Canada and account for over half (51%) of all new cancer cases.
Those numbers are not exciting. What it means is that I am not going to be the only person that you know who is diagnosed with cancer. For some of you I am the first person our age (34 to be exact) and for others you have known parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. But even if I am the first, unfortunately I won’t be the last and I thought I’d take a few minutes to make sure that you’re well prepared to be the best possible friend, caregiver or just general human being.
#1 – Don’t call having cancer a journey. Most of the people in my life have done a great job of forgetting that this word exists in their vocabulary other than maybe when hearing, “Just a small town girl…living in a lonely world”after more than a few drinks in a bar.
#2 – Don’t avoid the person or avoid talking about cancer. It’s cancer, not leprosy, it’s not contagious and its shocking how many people have a hard time talking about it. On the flip side, cancer isn’t the only thing you have to talk about either! Talking about TMZ, the latest gossip in your circle of friends, crazy family or work is awesome and a great distraction. The whole situation is crappy and heavy for sure but the person with cancer is still a person first.
#3 – Don’t say things like, “oh my best friend’s boyfriend’s grandpa has skin cancer and is totally going through the exact same things as you, let me tell you all about them, their life, their hopes and dreams and cancer experience”. Every cancer is different and even when you have the same cancer, each treatment plan is individualized. There are so many factors that go into deciding treatment (age, grade, stage, hormone receptors, etc), plus everyone’s reaction to the treatment is a little different. I’ve sat in the chemo chair across from a woman with a very similar story to mine but who is getting a completely different type of chemo drug. We are each little unique cancer snowflakes! That all being said, it is comforting to talk to someone who you can relate to and who might be be able to give a small bit of insight into what it could be like. So the best way that people have approached this with me is saying, “my (insert title) also has had (insert type) cancer. Let me know if you want me to connect you, they would be happy to answer any questions”. And for the record, if you do end up knowing someone else that goes through this shit and they are looking to talk to someone, I am more than happy to be that someone.
#4 – Don’t tell the person about how things like eating only asparagus kills cancer cells. There’s all kinds of theories out there for the type of diet or lifestyle to lead that is supposed to kill/cure/fight cancer, I know, I’ve been looking. But, funny enough, for each study or suggestion, there’s another that suggests the opposite. The only thing that eating asparagus 24/7 is going to do for me is leave me hungry and make my pee smell terrible.
#5 – So many Do’s. Do check in, do ask questions, do invite the person out to social occasions (but don’t get offended if they don’t come, but keep inviting them), do remember that not everyone wants to talk as openly as I do and that’s ok, do make them laugh and feel normal, do offer concrete things to help (ie. coming to chemo, driving to or from appointments, making meals, visits).
Important note – The vast majority of you that I know, love and am friends with have done a bang up job – truly top notch! You have been incredibly supportive, interested and sensitive to what’s gone on and I appreciate that about each and every one of you.