I know somebody with cancer. Someone else, talking about the cancer patient, recently told me, “I feel like I should talk to her, but I’m sure she’s sick of talking about it, and repeating the same thing over and over again. She probably just wants to get her mind off it for a few minutes.” When it comes to interacting with people that have potentially life-threatening illnesses, I suspect a lot of people have thought the same thing. I have. But it’s exactly the wrong thing to do.
At the end of Gladiator, General Maximus’ friend buries a small carving in the dirt, and as if talking to the spirit of Maximus, says, “I’ll see you again someday, but not yet. Not yet.” We know death looms for all of us, but we can function day-to-day because the idea of “someday” is so nebulous. It doesn’t seem real, so we can handle it.
Ten years ago, doctors told me I might die from cancer. Right away, I wanted to know everything I could about my cancer: how it worked, treatment possibilities, survival rates, and such. Beyond that, they hazy concept of death somewhere in the future becomes clear and immediate. It becomes real. Coming to grips with this change takes time.
When people get sick, people will often say, “If there’s anything I can do…” When I was sick, the most important thing people did for me was to ask me about it. It was immensely therapeutic to talk about the cancer, and even the possibility I might die. It gave me the chance to talk about it, and process everything that was happening. Repeating many of the same facts and figures to various people was a way of working through the ideas for myself. I drew strength from talking about it.
A few years later, while attending my son’s volleyball game, I saw the father of one of the other boys standing alone across the floor. I knew he had cancer, and his newly bald head told me treatment was ongoing. Despite all I had been through, and all I had learned from my own cancer experience, I found myself running the same old excuses through my head as to why I shouldn’t go talk to him.
Thankfully, I went over and asked him how his treatment was going. He dove right in, and talked about his chemo, his prognosis, and even the plans he and his wife had made to take care of his family if things didn’t work out. We spent an hour standing there talking about it. I could see it meant as much to him as it had meant to me years earlier. He later died, but I’m thankful I approached him that day.
So, is there anything you can do? As a matter of fact, yes, there is. (OP 2/19/2014)