Search This Blog


Saturday, November 8, 2014

What Not to Say to Someone with Cancer

by Carol Fragale Brill

Are you old enough to remember the old Art Linkletter show, “Kids say the Darnedest Things? It turns out, adults do too. Since sharing I have cancer, I have heard some doozies. Maybe it’s that facing someone with an illness or disability unsettles us to the point where we grope for words, or ramble and unintentionally blurt out the not-so-empathetic thing.
Here are some of the “darnedest” things I wish I could un-hear.  
1.    Cancer Stories with unhappy endings - “My (fill in the blank; sister, mother, cousin, neighbor) just DIED from cancer.” Or even worse “Died from the same kind of cancer you have.
I can’t tell you how many times, after hearing I have cancer, the first thing someone tells me is about someone that died. Most of us have at least one personal story about someone who suffered an unpleasant cancer death.

Unless I ask you, this is not a good time to remind me that people die from cancer. If you feel compelled to share, make it a hopeful story about someone who beat the sucker and is cancer-free.  

2.    Chemo Horror Stories. “Do you know how often after chemo, cancer returns with a vengeance?”
In what universe does a person in the midst of chemo treatments need to hear cancer and vengeance in the same sentence? The only thing the local store-owner who said this to me accomplished is making me want to avoid him and his store with a vengeance.

Before starting chemo, I was freaked out enough about losing my hair, the possibility of nausea and vomiting, and the long list of other potential side-effects shared by my doctor without being bombarded with unsolicited real-life accounts of organ damage, excruciating mouth sores, fingernails that turned black and fell off, or life-threatening dehydration. There is only so much cancer and chemo horror I can take-in without completely wigging-out. If I want to hear the gory details, trust that when I’m ready I’ll ask you.

And for the record, my experience with chemo isn’t nearly as nasty as those alarming stories. That’s what I’d like someone embarking on their own chemo journey to hear.

3.    The royal “We”. We will get through this,” “Just six chemo treatments? We can do that.”

On a recent episode of Parenthood, I almost cheered out loud when a character who plays a cancer survivor complained about how much “we” statements bugged her.

Not all “we” statements bother me. I love to hear “we” when you mean you and someone else like, “we are praying,” or “we want to help.”

I know my cancer causes distress to those who care about me. I believe when you say “we” you mean you want to be there and support me. Instead, what I hear is you believe you’re experiencing the same thing as me--that you have as much skin in this game as Jim and me.
“We” can wish it were different. The reality is this cancer is happening inside only my body. That changes my life and Jim’s in ways it doesn’t impact anyone else. There are parts of having cancer I have no choice but to do alone—parts even Jim can’t do for me.

Melissa Etheridge, a cancer survivor, says it poignantly in her beautiful song, “This is Not Goodbye,”  

Where I go now, I go alone.
This path I walk, these days of stone. 

Before using the royal “we” it might help to ask yourself, “How does her cancer change my day to day life?” If you are doing pretty much what you always did, consider ditching the “we.”  

I know no one intends to upset me when they say these darnedest things. Innocent or not, some remarks nearly pushed me over the edge in the early weeks after my diagnosis when I was numb and fragile—when it was nearly impossible for me to hear a sad cancer story and not project the same thing happening to me. While I’m getting better at not agonizing and melting down, there are still things that rattle my hope and that I’d rather not hear. 

This was a hard post for me to write. I don’t know if others with cancer feel the way I do, so in spite of the title, this post is about me with cancer, not we with cancer.

Please share in comments and help me better appreciate and understand the flip-side, What does hearing a person has cancer—or any serious illness or disability—feel and sound like to you? 

And, follow this link to hear Melissa Etheridge’s song, “This is Not Goodbye”

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Perfect Love: Arriving in April

by Chris Brady

Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild.
                                                                                                    ~Welsh Proverb
The reality of becoming a grandmother has been percolating in my mind since learning my daughter-in-law was expecting. And now it is even more real as we know the baby is a girl. I have six months to study up on grand-parenting. 

And I can't help but wonder, what kind of grandmother will I be.

I have great role models: my mom and my mother-in-law come easily to mind.  Each in her own way forged strong bonds with my son, spending a lot of quality time with him. My mom was the first phone call when school would phone me that he was sick and I was stuck at work. And my mother-in-law would take him for spring break in Florida and a summer week in North Carolina. He hit the mother-lode in grandmothers.

A granddaughter seems like such a gift to me as a mother of a son. I recall my own
Nannie and me circa 1960.
experience as a granddaughter, and memories of my maternal grandmother “Nannie” still make me smile.

She wasn’t a cool grandmother in the modern sense, and I can’t say that she imparted any great wisdom that guided my decisions (more likely I wasn’t paying attention). But I remember her presence throughout my life, and I treasure the things we did together, just her and me.

I used to stay overnight with her a few days a week when I was in high school. She was about 85 at the time, living with my aunt, who was often away. We would walk to the Acme, which was about a half mile away, to shop for dinner. This involved crossing the six lanes of the Roosevelt Boulevard with no traffic light. When I would hesitate at the sight of oncoming traffic she would jog into the street in her black old lady shoes fearless of the danger, pulling me along for the run.

 “They wouldn't dare hit an old lady,” she proclaimed. And three lanes of cars would stop for us, with not a beep out of them.  

I won't be running in traffic with my new granddaughter, but I hope we share some adventures together so that she can smile about our time together after I'm gone.

Arriving in April 2015, she has no idea how much love awaits her.

Share your grandmother stories so that I learn from the pros.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Time to Every Purpose

So, it’s 4:30AM and here I am, writing this blog post.  For nearly a week, I have been trying to put pieces together into something coherent and meaningful.  But the words will not behave.
It’s not writer’s block, exactly.  Do I write about the joy of libraries?  About my favorite childhood authors?  About the need for more female protagonists in children’s books?  Or do I write about my idiosyncratic appraisal clients, such as the one who left a bag of figs dangling from my mailbox just yesterday?  Do I “cheat” and fall back on a piece about my bad “car karma,” including Migo’s first ride in a tow truck last week?  I have plenty of material.  My little notebook is full of paragraphs going in a variety of directions. 

Which is, perhaps, a reflection of the rest of my life. Since I have come home (and been blessed to realize that Cape May is home), my life has been exuberantly full.  I have a pleasantly nagging backlog of appraisal work.  When I can’t DIY in This Old House, I have been trying to corral the “Cape Maybe” contractors that gave Carol the title for her second novel.  Then, time for line dancing class, fitness class, even Migo’s obedience class.  Time to catch up with friends.  Time to feed my “Amazon Prime” addiction.  I have been giving my life 16 to 18 hour days, and I have no trouble falling asleep!
And I still write every day.  Journal, Facebook, garrulous texts…in addition to appraisal reports and my notebook musings.  I notice that my voice is starting to change, and I wonder where that will take me.

Because my return to "Kansas" has also made me keenly aware of time. I see the winter months not too far ahead of me, both literally and figuratively, and realize I may be moving much more slowly then.   I am still a bit scattered, getting it all back together, but I do have direction. 

So, when I awoke and embraced this morning’s gift of time, I found myself thinking of The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn.”   

I believe the pieces will come together in their good time.