A number of writers have written about John McCain and their pieces of what not to say to someone who has cancer. My opinion on the matter is that you need to find the middle ground. Each person is different and should be treated as such. Some people embrace the fighter spirit, clothe themselves in warrior armor, and want all the ribbons out there for their particular cancer. Others never want to hear the word cancer again, wish to never look at a ribbon, and detest the war and sports analogies that come with the cancer.
For me, I am some where in the middle. I picked up a few teal pieces (teal is the color for ovarian cancer), designed a bracelet with a teal ribbon and the words hope written on it, and a shirt that read, “I pay my oncologist big bucks for this hairstyle.” I didn’t want my wardrobe completely laced in teal but I wanted a few select things.
I know that people mean well for the most part and most have no clue what to say to someone who has been diagnosed. There is one phrase that can make my blood boil on the inside and that is, “you’ll be fine.” Nothing is fine about cancer, it’s not the flu, it isn’t a cold, and you certainly won’t be ok in just a few days. Cancer is LIFE ALTERING. If you tell me, “at least you have a beatable cancer,” I will likely educate you on why that is a terrible phrase likewise with, “you’re young and have that going for you.”
I do look at cancer as a journey, a turning point that changed the course that I was originally on. Some do not like that phrase, my husband being one of them. In my eyes it’s a journey that will never close, a chapter that has no end. While I am in remission I will have oncologist appointments, labs, and scans for the rest of my life that is why I view it as a chapter with no ending. It isn’t a dark journey either, cancer has brought me more peace, self awareness, emotions, a raw that has never gone away, while challenging me in ways I never imagined. Cancer is no walk in the park though, it’s HARD!
My best advice is be there with the person, not for them. There is a difference. Many cancer patients don’t need you to be there for them, rather to be there with them. Show up to just sit next to them in silence or in conversation, don’t push it. Don’t assume you know what they need either as it may change from day to day. It’s a learning process for both the one who was diagnosed and for everyone else around them.
My entire chemo journey was sprinkled with basketball and soccer games. I needed those games to push me out of bed and get my mind off of cancer, god love my girls for playing sports. It was also where we met this spunky, caring, and super amazing basketball mom named Kathy. That woman didn’t take no for an answer once she finally worked up the courage to ask me if I was undergoing chemo. She began a meal train for us that we became forever grateful for. At first I didn’t want it nor did I think we needed it but boy was I wrong!!! I still have dreams about the beef brisket her mom made for one of our meals, that woman can cook (and so can Kathy)! I learned that an entire community was there with us, praying, and cooking.
The people I talked to more about how I was feeling and what I needed also saw ME and not my cancer. They treated me normal and not like I was a porcelain doll that would crack at any moment if touched. They were also the ones who understood if I just wasn’t feeling up for visitors or long chats by phone.
It is also perfectly fine to not be ok, to not be strong, to lose your shit. That was one of the best gifts I could have ever asked for. A fellow survivor and close friend telling me that it was ok to not be ok. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US will have our moments in the cancer journey where we just want to melt into the floor like a pool of unset jello and just exist on the floor for a while. Allow it, give the person space, and then hug them.
I do agree with so many of the pieces written about John McCain and his journey that he is embarking on. But why did it take a politician being diagnosed with brain cancer for people to begin talking and writing about it? It shouldn’t be so taboo of a subject or make people feel that uncomfortable to not talk about it. If you asked a room full of people to raise their hands if they know someone who has cancer likely every hand would be in the air.
Talk about it with the person who has cancer and not everyone else around them. No one likes to be talked about so don’t get all secretive about it either. Plus, the spouse will likely have a different view point than the person going through cancer, that is true in our household.
It’s the search of finding the middle ground, the place where everyone can safely exist in. Each person is different, the one with cancer will take the lead when they are ready. Do not push, do not rush it, wait for the lead because that person is the leading actor/actress and everyone else is just part of the cast.