WHAT NOT TO SAY TO A CANCER PATIENT--A MODEST PROPOSAL

If there is one thing the cancer patients I know have in common, it is their dread at being asked, "How are you feeling?"

Well, how the hell do you think I'm feeling. I've got cancer, baby!

You want to say that but instead, one is compelled to be polite, smile graciously, nod, and give a thumbs up, which is the cancer emoji for, Yeah, I'm surviving, but it is not the most honest thing one could say. That's the problem with emojis. They aren't subtle.

So when you meet up with a friend who is undergoing radiation, chemo, or has a cancer surgery scheduled soon, do NOT ask how they are feeling. Here's a modest proposal. Say instead:

Hey, I hear you are going through a hard time right now. I am so sorry. I'm thinking of you and keeping you close in my heart.

This reassures the unfortunate patient and does not require a response which is, in fact, difficult when taxol and carbo drain the vital bodily fluids from one's veins. Being social and polite become doubly difficult when undergoing chemo.

Another thing it would be good to avoid is the enthusiastic and well-meant response--after looking at my Raquel Welch wig and my face (which took me half-an-hour to put on, including drawing eyebrows on 'cause I ain't got hair there, and we won't mention the other areas which have become like a parking lot outside Walmarts), "You look wonderful, really."  Not sick at all, is the subtext. So what happens when I am halfway through the dreaded chemo and look like shit, will you say, "You look like sh...., I mean, a little tired, honey."

Here's another area to be sensitive to--touching and hugging. Our immune systems are the victims of a Putin dictatorship and are pretty much flattened.  We are trying valiantly not to get sick (I thought of wearing a full-body condom), because that will mean missing a weekly infusion, ad we so don't want to do that!  So please--don't touch my hands (even though I would you love to), don't hug me, and don't breathe on me. If you must touch me, put a gentle hand on my back and rub soothingly. "Thinking of you, honey," always goes down well.

Imagine that you are trying to hug a 75 year-old farm wife from Idaho who wears foundation garments, dress shields, and other unmentionables. I have a port, which is often sore, especially when touched or bumped; I wear a bra that would horrify a Victoria Secrets' customer; and it is best to just not come too close to the undergarment structure here.

Oh, before I forget, there is one other statement that makes me bat shit crazy:  When people say to me, "Stay strong!" Are you kidding?  What do you think I'm bloody well doing? I showed up. I have makeup on so I won't frighten the horses. I am not sobbing helplessly under the covers and snorting cocaine.  I AM strong and resilient, thank the Lord, but don't tell me to be strong, because that just reflects your own insecurities about my having cancer. And there will be days when I will so not be strong, and I want to be able to have those too.

So these are a few modest suggestions for showing that you get a little bit what life is like for me now and that you are respectful of my boundaries.

In a vaguely connected segue, let's remember that today's Gospel lesson is about Namman the Syrian being cured of leprosy by dunking 7 times into the Jordan, on the advice of Elisha or was it Elijah (one went up to heaven in a Back to the Future flaming chariot, and the other got fed stale bread by ravens, probably wishing he had some Purell). As so often happens when we encounter the Holy, Namaan is like, "Are you f...ing serious? I came all this way with my retinue of servants, tons of gold, etc., and you want me to bathe in a bloody green RIVER?"  But he does and is cured.

I would like to bathe in the Jordan and be miraculously healed, throwing away my damn wig, my roiling gut, my fatigue and trembling fingers, and the weekly infusions. I thought momentarily about buying lots of green Rit dye and pouring it into the neighboring Mill River to take a 7-times dunking, but something tells me that dye isn't what makes a river holy. (If you don't know this already, the Jordan is a sprightly, toxic green now.)

I also know that I am on the midst of a journey--the slow road to healing. Though Jesus reserves the right to step into my life (Oh, please!) and miraculously heal me, I know that isn't how things usually work.  How it works for me instead is lying in bed in the early morning dark and feeling His blessed presence like a warm shawl wrapped around me.  I know He is here with me, walking with me, reminding me that I am not alone. And if that isn't pretty damn close to a healing, I don't know what is.

Comments

  1. Well said. I'm sharing it. Good reminders, and we all need them, even those of us who try to be sensitive but aren't really.

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  2. Ann, This is terrific! Frank, funny, and inspiring. Also, helpful. I didn't know I was such a social klutz.

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