Thursday, September 8, 2011

What to Say to a Cancer Patient

I feel bad for the people that have to deal with me on a daily basis. I'm a pain in the butt. However, they're my family and they love me.

I feel even worse for the people who don't deal with me on a daily basis. Not in a vain "I'm such a great person" way. I feel sorry for those who don't talk to me on a regular basis because they often don't know what to say or how to treat me. Here's the big secret I've realized: No one has behaved inappropriately or irreparably offended me. No one. Not one person. Surprised? I am. It's due largely in part that I have amazing family and friends - I know no one is a mean person. So even when someone says something odd, I know it's coming from a good place. It's also because there's no wrong way to act. I'll repeat that, because it's important. There is no wrong way to act.

There are three basic buckets of the way people treat me:
  1. Some people are afraid to talk to me and avoid me. That's fine. I'm happy to talk to anyone about any questions they have. However, if I make someone uncomfortable because of my illness, then they can avoid me and I'm not offended. It's just their way of keeping the norm. 
  2. Others talk only about me being sick. That's fine. They ask how I'm feeling, let me complain, ask questions, let me complain more. That works for me. I'm happy to talk about me. It is one of my favorite subjects. (I should say that this is a matter of personal preference. Not everyone is as open about their health issues as I am and for very good reasons. When I went through my first surgery/chemo over 500+ people literally got updates on the function of my large intestines. That was my choice.)
  3. Lastly, there are people who talk to me about anything but being sick. Also ok. I'm happy for those people that treat me like I'm not sick and tell me about their lives. I want to know about other's lives to still feel normal.
There are hybrids - most people are a combination of 2 & 3 and obviously if I sat here I could come up with more archetypes. The point is that there's nothing that offends. I have a lot of people that say "I don't want to bother you too much, but I wanted to know how you were doing." I don't mind calls, text, emails. If I don't respond or answer, I'm busy (obvi). But the calling is always nice.

I had a coworker ask me what he could do to help. Simple question and very kind. The best thing I could come up with to help me that day was "tell me about what's going on in your life". I wanted  to know - and I wanted to talk about something other than being sick. I love my friends that let me do that. They call, ask me how I'm feeling, listen, and then tell me about their crazy wild adventures.

Even if you don't have wild crazy adventures, that's ok too. I'm just happy that you care. :)

On a scheduling note, I'll be doing chemo again on Monday, inpatient in the hospital. I'll hopefully be out of the hospital on Wednesday. This chemo shouldn't be as bad, largely in part because my momma doesn't have chemo this week. I've been feeling pretty bad on most days, but surviving. My mom and I hi-five at the end of each day and recite our mantra "we survived".


  1. I'm totally having a sappy kind of day, I think the sun did it to me. It struck me today that something as simple as seeing the sun has made me extraordinarily happy. Because I don't think we've seen it for a solid 10 days. Which then made me grateful for something else I take for granted - my health. Which then of course made me think of you, and I was happy to see a post from you! And the very last line in small type is why I love you guys and am hi-fiving from afar. XOXO

  2. Patti,
    I hope today went well and that you're resting and feeling OK. This is interesting, the whole notion of how to talk to a cancer patient. On the one hand, the non-cancer friend wants to ask and talk about it out of curiosity, empathy, sheer caring for the other person -- but on the other hand, the non-cancer person doesn't want the cancer person to think that's all he/she sees now: a cancer person.
    (I'm going to switch to first-person here because this third-person thing isn't really working out).
    I know that your illness is consuming for you, your mom, dad, brother and Lisa. I'm sure it (and your mom's cancer) are dominant in your thoughts during every waking moment. So should I, as an outsider, talk about it and make you think about it even more? Or should I, as an outsider/friend give you a break from thinking about it (by not asking/commenting/acting as though I think you're not thinking about it)? I think that's why people avoid talking about illness head-on -- they don't know if it's what's wanted or not.
    So it's great to know that you're open to talking about it all. As someone who's really appreciating you're blog -- I'll keep reading to hear as much as you want to share. Healing thoughts to you...