Thursday, 20 November 2008

Just a thought but...

...some things you might like to think about before saying aloud to friends with cancer - or any serious, longstanding illness for that matter - and some alternatives...

1. On noticing how much weight your friend has lost - "OMG!  You're soooo thin!  Please let me in on your diet secret!"

(Try something like, "You look great - at least there's one good thing come of all this," or alternatively keep your mouth shut!

2. When seeing a friend for the first time after a diagnosis, "How long has the doctor given you to live?!"

(I can't honestly think of an alternative for this one - and it reduced me to tears.)

3.  You haven't bothered to get in touch for over a year, but now need a phone number from your 'friend'.  Please refrain from sending a text that reads, "Sorry I haven't been in touch, but been thinking about you.  BTW have you got X's phone number?"


4.  You've had a really bad day/week/month at work.  By all means complain about it, but please don't say, "You're soooo lucky being off work!" because however bad work is, it is NOT as bad as waking up every morning with a life threatening illness - being stuck at home, alone, most of the time, and having to work your mental, physical, and emotional backside off just to be able to face the day!  We would MUCH rather be at work, and not having to do marking is NOT lucky - it's crap.

5. You phone your friend to ask how they are, and they say,"I've been a bit down lately, and I'm struggling to say positive."  Do not say,"That's okay, I'll come to see you and we can be miserable together!"

(It may seem like empathy to you, but it's the last thing your friend needs!  They need positivity, and someone to help them smile again.  And however bad your problems seem, unless they include someone's life being at risk, they just won't cut it.)

6.  Some people are just naturally negative.  These are those unlucky individuals who see the glass as, not so much half empty, as smashed to pieces.  These are the people who ring you up to say, "How are you?" and then proceed to 'share' every bit of bad news they've heard that week with you.  They'll start with, "God, isn't the weather horrible today?!"  They'll then go on to tell you about the child who got murdered, the bomb that went off killing x number of people, and how depressing the world is.  If this sounds like you,

The weather is not horrible.  It is weather.  Unless you are in the middle of a natural disaster, try to see the rain as rain, and grey skies as cloudy.  If it's cold, put more clothes on and consider those who live in the Arctic!  If it's raining, think how fresh everything will be afterwards, how well the trees will grow.  If you've seen bad things on the news, don't bother telling me about it.  Chances are I saw it too.   Look for the good in life - the good news stories - they do exist if you're willing to look hard enough.  For all the starving people, there are projects and people working to alleviate the situation (and of course we need more but the fact is, there are people who are trying to make a difference and that should furnish us with hope and good faith). There's one poor soul I know who, when you say, "Isn't it beautiful out today!" will say, "Ah yes, but the weather report said it's going to be horrible later."  This same person has a heart of gold, but will complain endlessly about everything from their job, to their partner.  (And no - they don't read this blog, thank god... I'd be mortified if they read this and recognised themselves!)

* * * * * * * * * * *

I hasten to add that I have been fantastically lucky with the amount of support I've had/continue to receive.   And almost everyone has been very thoughtful and careful about what they say, and I wouldn't want people to be ill at ease with me, watching their every word, either.  It's just that since my diagnosis I give thanks every day for my friends and family, and my life.  I have realised how insignificant the 'problems' I had before actually are.  Even pretty major things like divorce, losing one's job etc., pale into insignificance when life holds a loaded gun to your head, trigger cocked.  Even when you learn to live with/contain the terror (and it is real terror), it can still catch you unawares, and it is very hard work (at first) to keep your thoughts positive and wholesome (it does get easier with practice though).

And I have noticed that one or two people still think that a bad day at work equals living with cancer/being on chemotherapy, or that just because I'm off work, I have all day to listen to people's so called problems.  I wish I could bottle up this insight I've been blessed with, and enable these negative people to appreciate what they do have, rather than focusing on what they do not have. 

And I don't mind listening to people's problems generally.  I like being able to help, or just be there for people - but there are days when I can't handle it, when I  need support/cheering up/to hear positive things.

Luckily I have my dad, and mu husband, and a handful of other special folk who are always positive for me, and do appreciate how lucky they are to have their health!

So - love and good health to all of you reading this, and I send you positive vibes in all you do/experience.  I send you feelings of gratitude for all you do have, and the hope/belief that you will get all the things you feel you need.


ChrisH said...

Ouch! That's really made me think, thank you! (Don't go over to my blog this week, please, it's not happy.). With every good wish, CX

Debs said...

Thanks for the informative post, I'll try and remember. I'm glad you couldn't hear me whinging this morning at work!

Have a great weekend.

DOT said...

Excellent post and we need more like it.
In defence of those who do make crass comments, I think they are often stuck as how to deal with a situation outside of their experience and so resort to stock platitudes without thinking them through.
The more you can teach us about your POV the better.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

A friend of mine has a rare and serious illness; we'll call her Sue. Her illness is not terminal but it is incurable, debilitating and a real challenge to live with, and the most likely prognosis is that she will die of cancer as a side-effect of the drugs used to control her illness. Sue was once asked why she'd chosen to have that particular illness and what the pay-off was for her. Sue is a loving and peaceful woman, but she told me she'd never come so close to punching someone in the face. So I'm thinking that might be another thing not to say to people with cancer.

And from my own experience, I still cringe at the memory of seeing a distant relative's partner - I knew she'd had cancer, but they live nowhere near us, I'd only met her a handful of times over many years, I'd forgotten all about it and we were in the middle of a family party - she'd previously had long, lush hair, and she turned up with an elfin crop, and I said something like 'wow, you look great, what made you decide to go for short hair?' and then I really, really wished the floor would open and swallow me whole, especially when she gave a very gracious reply instead of calling me a stupid idiot. So that might be ANOTHER thing not to say. (I still feel hot all over with embarrassment when I think about that one.)

hesitant scribe said...

Chris - We all need a little moan now and then - my issue is where people moan about the same thing forever, and no matter what you try to say/do to help, nothing ever changes for them (until they realise it's in their own hands!). I did visit your blog, and you've had every reason to moan (and a few things to celebrate too re: book [FANTASTIC!]

Debs - sometimes a little moan just hits the spot! Just as long as we don't wallow in it!

Dot - thank you!

Zinnia - I really enjoyed that comment! And am cringing with you! I once asked a woman when her baby was due, and she replied, "I'm not pregnant!" That was my worst cringe moment!

Mistlethrush said...

Glad to read you've still got the boxing gloves on - good post. I'll bear it in mind.

I was lucky enough to get out for a birding walk today. In between hail and freezing rain, it was a wonderful encounter.

Mistlethrush said...

PS Great to note you're over half way with the novel. I look forward to reading it.