A woman at work started chemo last week. It caught most of us by surprise, and many of us didn’t know anything was up until the day she started treatment.
It’s interesting, considering the path my family is currently walking, to watch how people react to cancer. For a second time I was up close and personal in watching reactions. Some people are ready to take up arms and fight it. Some hold it at arms length and dance around it. Some quietly accept it. And some avoid it all together, as if it was somehow contagious. But everyone reacts. They have to.
I myself am not battling cancer. But my mom is. And although my current bill of health has come back clean, I’ve watched how reactions can be both a wonderful help, and a serious hurt. I am not claiming to be an expert, or any kind of an authority on this matter, but I feel that this is important for me to say any way.
I watched this week as one of my other coworkers, upon hearing the news, immediately rushed online and purchased some (quite nice) gifts. These were to “help make treatment more enjoyable” (that is an exact quote). This person’s reaction was to shower the cancer with gifts so as to make it seem softer, less ugly. You can’t make treatment better. You can’t make cancer warm and fuzzy.
I listened as another coworker refused to even say the “c” word. Better to pretend it’s not happening, since it’s too scary to even acknowledge. But you can’t wish cancer away.
I read an e-mail from yet another coworker this week encouraging “fight, fight, fight!” and “she’s strong! There is no way she’ll let this thing beat her!” It’s good to be strong, but sometimes to feel strong you must admit weakness. You can’t always overpower cancer.
But if these reactions are so unhelpful, what helps? How can you react in a way that doesn’t make a tough situation even tougher?
It seems so simple, almost too easy, but often times it’s the 100% honest to God best reaction you can have. Just being there. Listening to them. Really hearing them. Maybe even not saying anything at all, I don’t know. Everyone is different. Everyone needs different reaction when dealing with the news of cancer.
But if I have learned anything from my own personal observations it’s this: don’t shower the cancer with gifts. Don’t push it away or pretend it isn’t there. Don’t become an overpowering warrior.
Embrace the cancer, and embrace the person. They don’t want this diagnosis any more then you want to talk about it. In fact, I would be willing to bet they want it even less.
But once you embrace the diagnosis, and come along side the person, you just might find that your idea of “help” doesn’t line up with what they want. Or need.
So be there.
Be their friend. Be their shoulder to cry on, be their friend to laugh with, be the quiet words of encouragement when they need it most. Just, don’t overreact. Or under-react.