Posted in cancer, connections, mental health, physical health, vulnerability

It’s not you, and you can’t fix it

I wrote yesterday about things that people said to me during my cancer journey and in the time since (though one could argue that it’s all the same journey).

I wanted to talk about it a little more.

I don’t think people are intentionally being mean or dismissive or any other unpleasant thing.

I think people are trying to protect themselves, to give order to events where there is none, to relieve themselves of guilt for it not happening to them, to relieve themselves of the discomfort of “what the hell do you say to someone who was just diagnosed with cancer?”

(I can help answer that last one. Will get to that but not going on that tangent yet. Also, all of this applies to all sorts of sudden life unpleasantries, not just a cancer diagnosis.)

Our brains’ mission in life is to keep everything predictable which makes us comfortable. This is why people who are miserable with their lives don’t change—they’re comfortable in their misery. Change is scary, and what if it’s worse on the other side? The demon you know versus the one you don’t kind of situation.

So when we’re handed something that immediately provokes change, we don’t like it. So we resist (consciously or not). And offer platitudes to the person/people who are at ground zero so we can feel better about ourselves and our position in life and shrug off how close it came to being us.

Is there a growing number of people who “need” cancer to learn a lesson, or to grow, or to change? No, I don’t think so.

Are there plenty of people who go through it and come out the other side without having learned any positive lessons, without having grown, without having changed for the better? Yes, there are.

And of course, there are plenty of people who don’t come out the other side.

It’s nearly guaranteed that you’re going to be at the center of a horrible little universe one day. Whether a medical diagnosis, the death of someone close, financial ruin, something, someday is going to knock your legs out from under you and kick you while you’re down.

While I don’t advocate for worrying about it, I also don’t advocate for blowing off other people’s pain to help you ignore the possibility of it showing up at your door.

For another day, you’re not at ground zero. It’s not you.

Is it awkward and uncomfortable to be with someone in that space? Yes. Yes, it is.

Do it anyway.

Your people need you. Step up. Be brave—just by showing up.

You can’t fix the problem.

Once more:

You can’t fix the problem.

You’re not going to say something that magically makes them feel better about their situation. But you can make them feel better for this moment. Be present. Be real.

What do you say? I’m sorry. That sucks. When do you want/need company? What meal can I bring you or your family? (Or, if you already know what would be welcome, What day can I bring you xyz?) When do you need me to watch your kids? Give me your grocery list and let me take care of it for you. Let me come over and vacuum (or dust or clean bathrooms or do laundry) so you don’t have to worry about it. I know it feels weird to get help with things you’re used to doing, but please let me help you so you can take care of you. I can’t kill tumors but I can wash socks and watch kids.

Depending on the person, maybe they’d just like to have conversations about other things. Maybe living with this and talking about it as much as is necessary is enough, and they’d like a bit of time back in normal life. Maybe they’d like to play a game. Cards, or a board game for few players.

Find something to help them pass time when they’re alone. Puzzles, magazines, a subscription (Netflix or similar) if they don’t already have one (even I would have watched TV through chemo). Books if they can read (I love reading but couldn’t get through a paragraph of a book because: chemo brain). A journal and a nice pen. Tools for a skill maybe they’ve been wanting to learn: knitting, crocheting, playing an instrument, drawing, painting, etc.

And then—a few months later, when most people have fallen off (because life events are longer than attention spans)—check in again (if you haven’t been all along). Same offers. New offer. Whatever. And then again.

Any questions?

 

Posted in about me, cancer, know better do better, physical health, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Cancer is not a gift

12 years ago, I began the process of sorting through symptoms and getting tests done that led to a cancer diagnosis.

In that 12 years, people have said some really stupid and/or hurtful things. (Not intentionally. But still.)

My cancer wasn’t some sort of gift.

It wasn’t given to me so I could learn a lesson or grow in some specific way.

It wasn’t a necessary prerequisite for a path I needed to walk.

It wasn’t a test of strength or character, nor was it a deliberate means to acquire strength or character.

It was a thing that happened, and that’s all.

It sucked.

It sucked way less than many other people’s cancer experiences. It sucked way more than many other people’s cancer experiences.

As a result of that experience, my lenses focus a little differently. I learned things I otherwise might not have. I met people and experienced places I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Many of those side effects have been positive, but certainly not all.

I have no guarantees that I won’t do it all again. Very unlikely for the same cancer. Odds aren’t great for certain other cancers.

In the mean time… today, I am alive.

Today, I take care of my body in a way that ties in with a culture that resists self-care.

Today, I offer support to others who are at the beginning of their terrible journey. Or are at the end of their treatment, still shell-shocked, and wondering, “What now?” as everyone tosses confetti and walks away.

Today, I get to be me for another day. Everything I have lived through—not just cancer—has shaped who I am, for better or for worse.

I have no gratitude for going through nine months of medical testing and procedures to diagnose and treat a large malignant tumor in my chest.

I have much gratitude for some of the “consolation prizes.”

But please. Stop telling people horrible things like “It’s God’s will” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “Everything happens for a reason.”

It’s not a gift.

 

Posted in connections, vulnerability

“You are often unaware of the effect you have on others”

I came across a video the other day. It’s a few years old but, aside from the event that she references, it’s timeless.

I have no connection to the site, to the woman, to the organization, to any of the people.

She just has a good message.

The past handful of years, I’ve been trying to do better, tell people that they’re important to me, that I love them, that I’m grateful for them. Tell them especially when they did something that maybe didn’t even feel like a big deal to them but meant the world to me. (Those little things mean so much, don’t they? I got teary just typing that sentence.)

I’m not great at it yet, but I’m getting better.

I think we all can do better.

Watch it here.

There are lots of ways to do it. Cards. Texts. Emails. Phone calls. Face to face. And so many ways within those categories, both straightforward and creative. A message. A poem. A song. A picture (drawn, purchased, photograph) with a caption.

Let yourself be vulnerable. You’ll be better for it. So will they.

 

Peanuts
I don’t remember where I saved this from, but I’ve sent it to a good number of people.
Posted in connections, mental health, mindset, socializing, thoughtfulness

What is our responsibility?

People need people to thrive. Numerous studies in the last decade point to social networks as a critical variable for longevity, and for general functionality and thriving.

As both a teacher and a parent, I see articles and videos about special needs kids, and to teach your kids to be kind and to be friends with them.

Kindness is reasonable. Getting to know someone who seems different than you is reasonable. But if you get to know someone a little and really just don’t care for them, are you going to be friends with them because they’re different?

As we get older, we don’t generally spend social time with people we don’t like (unless maybe we’re related to them). It seems we don’t even spend time with people we do like! I don’t know anyone (that I know of) who is friends with someone they don’t like just to provide a friend.

It’s not limited to special needs people. We have an epidemic of loneliness and isolation right now, causing or feeding record numbers of people with depression.

Where is the balance? Whose responsibility is it to be the social network for people who don’t have one?

We, collectively, can’t even agree on helping people who need money, which is (or seems like it should be) less complicated than helping with social-emotional support.

What do you think? Whose responsibility is it to provide the village, now that villages are gone?

 

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, gifts, vulnerability

Mother’s Day. It’s complicated.

I’ve written and deleted three fully-written posts for today, each full of different stories and details than the others.

All were true, but none seemed right.

I know that the more I heal from the trauma of my childhood, the more years that go by without choosing the least disingenuous card I can find, the less today hurts. The more I can be happy for people who have great relationships with their moms.

The Kid is usually with The Tall Daddy on Saturdays overnight and on Sundays during the day. I’ve not spent Mother’s Day with him since he was very little.

It’s always been a kind of isolating day.

Add to the mix friends struggling with infertility, friends who are still mourning the loss of their moms, friends who are mourning the loss of their kids, and it’s just a plain old rough day.

A few years ago, a good friend suggested that her family and The Kid and I get dinner together, and thus, a tradition was born. We’ll share a meal tonight for the fifth year in a row.

Yesterday, for early Mother’s Day, The Kid and The Climbing Daddy took me to a local nursery where I got to pick out a desert rose and a pot for it. I have always admired these plants at the Desert Botanical Garden. The Climbing Daddy found out some information about taking care of them, and it’s possible.

I chose the one with the best roots (this one had a tunnel!), because the flowers will come.