Tuesday, September 22, 2009

If you don't know what to say...how about nothing?

So since I finally seem to be over the trauma of the pending hairloss (**still reserving the right for relapse), I want to help the women that are behind me just a little, the ones that are suffering in silence with the realization and trying to come to terms with what's to come. So, I thought in this entry we'd just discuss something that every cancer patient in the world would like to say to all of the people WITHOUT cancer. This is stuff that actually matters to people who've just gotten this diagnosis, but they aren't going to tell you for fear of being rude. Fortunately (or not) for everyone reading this, I'm a little less afraid of that than the average bear. So, here goes...

See, when you get cancer you inevitably end up talking about the cancer with almost everyone that you encounter, like it or not. Now, although it has become a very easy conversation for me since I am choosing to handle it publicly, that doesn't mean that everyone else is as comfortable. That includes those with the cancer and those of you without it. So giving the rest of the world the benefit of the doubt, I thought that I would help those of you who don't have cancer with a few common missteps that might just come up in conversation. You know, things you might be tempted to say for some reason that I cannot explain, but really just shouldn't be said for ANY reason.

Now as women, we have certain things that help define who we are. Our eyes, our smile, our style, our expressions, and OF COURSE our hair. Hair is a big deal! It's a BIG part of the whole package. No one gets this diagnosis and and says, "good riddance!" For many of us, "Am I going to lose my hair?" is the first question we ask. Possibly even before asking about the prognosis... Most will get the news that I did. "Yes, you're going to lose it." That news is quickly followed by a deep breath, confusion, realization, tears, panic, worry...all kinds of stuff BEFORE acceptance. That's about how it worked for me. With, of course, unexpected spontaneous bouts of bawling that can rise up at any place, time, or in any company. (If you happened to witness this from me, sorry about that. I really couldn't control it.)

So to be clear, here are some of the most common things that you (the women without cancer) should NOT say to one of us. Saying these things can have several outcomes. None of them are good. Let's have a look at why...

First of all, almost all of us do get wigs at some point. You don't really need to ask us IF we're planning on that or just going "natural". Maybe you COULD ask "Have we already shopped for one? Have you found a good place to find one?" Or be helpful with something like, "I have a friend who knows a great cancer salon..." Any of those are actually acceptable.

It's AFTER that where the conversation goes wheels off with comments like the ones to follow, all of which I had with multiple people. So, if you're one of them, you are not alone and I am not putting this out there to make you feel bad. I am not upset with you in any way, and might have said some of this stuff myself if I didn't actually HAVE cancer either. I just want to explain how there might be a better way.Or, to ask you to consider how you would feel if these things were said to you...Here goes:

"You should get a pink one!" Really??? Based on what? Why? Because everyone wants pink hair all of a sudden? Because people need extra help identifying cancer patients in a color coded fashion? Because once you get cancer, you want to draw as much attention to yourself as possible?? What's up with the pink comment?? Let's shave YOUR head and get YOU a pink one. It's just a year or two. No biggie. You up for that?? I didn't think so. So then, why would I be? It's NOT cute or OK to say this to us. So please, skip it.

"Have fun with it!" What does this mean exactly? I am so unclear about where the fun part is coming from. Is the fun part the anxiety of it all coming it out at once, or waking up in a bed full of all you your curls that fell out while you were sleeping? Maybe the fun is about praying it's not too windy in Dallas this fall (NOT LIKELY) or that your wig doesn't shift strangely off to the right during an important meeting with your President or while addressing a group of a couple hundred people (which I get to do this fall in my stinking wig). I'm just not clear on where the fun is supposed to be coming from! It's fun to wear a wig for Halloween. There's also a reason Halloween is ONE day a year, not 365. Have you ever worn a wig for Halloween and gotten up the next day and thought, "I wish I could wear that thing everyday!"?

Then there's the tried and true... "It will grow back!" So will yours! I'm so glad you have that attitude. Let's do it together! Are YOU going to get a pink one?? Come on! Have fun with it! Why are you running away...?

The truth is, it WILL grow back, but we have to get to that realization and acceptance point on our own. You can't help us get there and saying it actually makes the pain of the situation worse because we feel guilty and shallow for even caring about our stupid hair! I did anyway. The thing is, you just can't understand this unless you've done it. The only people who can say that are women who've been through it, and it's still hard to hear.

Now, if you've said any of these things to me or anyone else with cancer, please don't worry about it. We're not mad at you. I just want you to understand that you don't need to have handy a perky response that's gonna make everything peachy keen. That response DOESN'T exist. And we're NOT looking for you to solve it for us. As much as you'd like to, you just can't.

Side Note: You know how we give men such a hard time about trying to “fix” everything for us when we just want them to listen? We even get into groups and talk about this phenomenon, right? Newsflash: When you say these things, YOU are doing the same thing! Interesting…isn’t it?

So, here's what it comes down to, we (women with cancer) know that you don't have the answers because, we don't either. What we probably need is for you just to listen. If what we're describing is tough and you don't know what to say. It's OK to say, "That's rough/terrible/awful (insert ANY bad adjective here), I don't know what to say." Or, "Is there any way that I can help?" Or, "I can't imagine what that's like.” Or, “I'm praying for you." Or, maybe there ARE no words, maybe it's just a hug that we need. That's OK, too.


kitykity said...

That 90 minutes in Heaven book really pointed out how important it is to offer to help people, and how important it is to accept that help.

I'll be thinking about you the next few days...

Triann Benson said...

LOVED the post!! Thinking of you LOTS!!

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