Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Open Mouth, But Don't Insert Foot. Because That's Just Silly.

I follow a lot of cancer blogs.  Probably too many.  I've tried to quit them a couple of times, but I get sucked back in by sheer curiosity.  Actually, I think I get sucked back in by the need to feel like we're not alone in this thing.  Cancer is common.  In fact, I bet you all know at least 10 people who have had it at some point.  Maybe more.  So it's strange sometimes that it can still feel so isolating, which is why I've been surprised by a theme that seems to have gone viral among cancer bloggers.  The first time I noticed this phenomenon was a few months ago.  The post was titled, "10 Things NOT to Say to a Cancer Patient".  The next post I stumbled onto said something like, "Cancer Etiquette 101".  And the next?  "If You Say This Kind Of Crap, I Will Drop Kick You".  Uh-oh.  Suddenly I was horrified thinking about how many times I'd probably said the "wrong" thing to someone who was sick.  Then,THEN they started coming back to me in detail!  Ohmygosh, I'm never speaking to a sick person ever again, I told myself.  And all of a sudden, a light went on inside my head.  I realized that I am in the weird situation of having been on both sides of the "cancer etiquette" situation.  You know, kind of.  Close enough to make the comparison at least.  And I have to say, I couldn't disagree with these bloggers more.

I decided to re-read several of the articles just to make sure I wasn't misinterpreting anyone.  In doing that, I came to the conclusion that there wasn't much consistency.  Except for the rule of not telling me stories of every person you've ever heard of who has died of cancer.  Which I kind of agree with.  Unless you literally can not think of anything else to say, in which case I will listen politely to your stories and then make fun of you later when you're not around.  I'll probably end up feeling bad that I made fun of you, but really, you started it (yes, I'm 5, why do you ask?).  Other than that, it seemed to be more of a custom designed set of rules that these bloggers were suggesting people should follow.  The rules varied significantly from one person to the next, and many of them were conflicting to say the least.  Honestly, if I thought someone actually expected me to adhere to any one set of rules regarding what to say to them about cancer, I'd probably be too intimidated to say anything at all.  And on most lists I saw, choosing to say nothing at all was considered the worst offense!  I think expecting political correctness, when it comes to people expressing their sympathy, is frankly, pretty dang ridiculous (that sentence SO doesn't flow, but you get it, right?).    

You know, everyone goes through tough things.  Everyone will have challenges at one point or another that will rock them to their core.  For me and my family, right now, the challenge is cancer.  It's okay.  I get that not everyone knows what cancer is all about.  I sure as heck didn't before the whole lymphoma hail storm moved in on us.  But I can tell you without any hesitation that I've felt more loved and cared about in the past 7 months than ever before (I know Dad and Sam have felt that way too).  I for one, could care less what words people used to express their love and concern.  The delivery of their sentiment hasn't mattered one bit.  The fact that they've felt moved enough to say anything at all has been enough for me.  It's true, that there's a unique sort of connection you feel with people who have actually experienced what you're going through.  A kinship of sorts, that comes about when people who have had personal experiences with the same challenge get to talking.  Just the other day I was talking to a guy at church who's mom had had cancer for 4 1/2 years.  We understood things about each others stories that most people couldn't possibly get.  But I have appreciated and felt the sincerity of every single person who has stepped up to the plate in an effort to show me how much they care, even if they hadn't been touched personally by cancer.   It didn't matter what they said or how they said it.  I got the message.  And all of those lovely messages have changed me as a person.  I'm not glad that Sam got cancer.  I'm not glad that Dad got cancer.  But I wouldn't change the valuable lessons I've learned from cancer for anything.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, awesome things can come from difficult experiences.  You just have to be willing to see them.