Like sharing stories, passing on advice/information is another tricky area. We have all probably read something or heard something that could potentially be helpful. Knowing when to share it or keep it to yourself is a challenge. My friend, Nat, sent me a press release about a newly approved colon cancer drug. I appreciated that the information was right from the FDA horse’s mouth. We took the information to Dave’s oncologist who let us know that it wasn’t the drug for Dave at this time. It sure didn’t hurt to ask though. As far as drug trial or medical advice, I like having all the information in print from a reputable source.
Dave has a colleague at work who is a cancer survivor. She believes strongly that the water that you drink should have a certain pH. There is an expensive machine that she purchased that filters the water to the correct level. Dave asked his doctor about this, and they had no objection to him trying it. So this kind and generous person brings Dave gallon jugs of water each week. She feels like it is something she can do to help. I appreciate this because it is something that she tried, felt was effective, and thought Dave would benefit from too. But she also took the financial risk out of it because she is using her machine and providing Dave with the water. I would have to say that I would have been reluctant to spend thousands of dollars on something someone who was not an expert suggested.
My friend, May, was spot on when she shared her knowledge. One afternoon, May stopped by to drop off an absolutely delicious dinner. I happened to mention to her that Dave is experimenting with making various smoothies containing super foods like kale. Turns out that May has a wealth of knowledge, but she waits until she knows someone is interested to share. The next time she stopped by she brought us some things to try (while including the ingredients list so Dave can check with his doctor to make sure there is nothing objectionable). I so appreciated all of her suggestions and advice and how she essentially waited until she was asked for it.
We have been very lucky to have friends thinking of us and sharing their experience and knowledge.
I think that the best thing that you can do for someone who is dealing with cancer is to stay in touch. (This would be #1 on my list of “Things I am SO Glad that People Did or Said”.) We have so appreciated each and every email, message, voicemail, phone call, text. When we were still reeling after our world had been rocked, I remember looking around and seeing people going about their lives as normal. Frustrated that life could just go on in the midst of all our craziness made me feel like we were all alone. Then I would come home and there would be a card in the mail, and I would be reminded that we will never be alone. We have a huge network of love and support.
There have been some MVPs of staying in touch. For Dave, his biggest supporters are two women that he barely knows. One of them, Lora, he has only met in person once or twice. The other one, Helen, is my brother’s mother-in-law. Both of these supportive wonderful women are cancer survivors. They seem to know how important it is to stay in touch regularly and so Dave receives cards or care packages once a month. For me, I would have to say my sister-in-law, Michelle, has been incredible about staying in touch. I get quick text messages of support and love all the time just to let me know that she is thinking of us. Michelle’s mom is Helen. I guess when you have gone through it, you realize how important it is to have people checking in on you.
I feel like relationships with friends and family have actually been strengthened over the last year. We have reconnected with friends that we hadn’t seen in a while, spent more time with loved ones, and learned to enjoy every moment we are lucky enough to spend together. It’s a shame that it takes something catastrophic to bring people together, but I will take it.
Another chapter in my book (which truly only exists in my head) would be entitled “Cautionary Tales”. When people find out that someone has cancer, instinct tells them to share success stories. I am quite certain that I have done this myself. We found that hearing about someone’s uncle, cousin, friend, coworker was not always reassuring. It was not necessarily comforting, and sometimes it was actually annoying. We smiled and said “Thank you for sharing.” And we kind of meant it.
When Dave’s diagnosis was fresh in our heads, we couldn’t really process or appreciate these stories. We could understand that they were being shared for only the best of reasons. But no one told me a story about someone who had colon cancer that had metastasized to their liver in three spots and then went on to live to be 100. As people were sharing via email, phone, in person, I found myself thinking: not the same kind of cancer, not the same age, not male, other health problems, not the same stage. I was happy that their person had beat cancer and gone on to live a full and happy life. At the same time, I was bitter at the heaping pile of cancerous fate that we had been handed.
As we traveled on our new path for a while, it became easier and more comforting to hear stories. Over time, we could hear the positivity that was being gifted to us. I still have times when my eyes and brain glaze over when someone is sharing their story, and I hope that my lack of a poker face doesn’t offend. Because even if I don’t want to hear your tale, I do appreciate the underlying optimism, love, and support.
I guess this is my long winded way of saying to share your stories cautiously. Try to get a sense of how the person you are talking to is reacting. They will know your heart is in the right place. And they might appreciate it if you feign ADD and move on to another topic.
Please know that anything in the “Cancer for Dummies” writing is not aimed at anyone in particular. It is just my opinions and a reflection of what we are going through.
We have been at this cancer thing for almost a year now. As we have traveled along the twisty path, I have formulated a sort of Cancer for Dummies book in my head. Perhaps a more apt name would be Cancer for the Previously Unaffected. Ideas usually pop in to my brain when I am alone in the car, and I spend the remainder of the drive pondering them. There is the list of “Things I Wish People Wouldn’t Do or Say” and the other list of “Things I am SO Glad that People Did or Said”. When I think back on my own actions, I have probably done or said all of the things on the first list and done or said precious few on the second. Now I know. Perspective is a powerful thing.
My least favorite question when people find out about Dave’s cancer is “Did they catch it early?” Because the thing is they didn’t. Once this question is floating out there, I begin to feel uncomfortable because I know I am about to make someone else uncomfortable. So I give a brief response along the lines of “Unfortunately they didn’t. It had already metastasized to his liver when they found it.” Then there is an awkward silence followed by me feeling the need to explain about risk factors and routine screening and why Dave hadn’t been screened earlier. Suddenly I am the living blathering wikipedia of colon cancer information encouraging you to get a colonoscopy when you mention your family history. And I mean it. Have you had one? You should.