SparkNotes from Cancer 101

I do not claim to be, by any means, an expert on cancer. Since my diagnosis, however, I have had a crash course in all things cancer. Luckily for me (can you say ‘luckily’ when talking about cancer?) I had an oncology interest during my pharmacy residency, which has helped immensely to give me an understanding of the path ahead. But all of the studying in the world, all of the patient counseling, all of the presentations, mean nothing when it is now YOU in the hot seat. This Wednesday will be 8 weeks since my diagnosis. This might not seem like a long time, but I propose that cancer years work like dog years. So in cancer years it hasn’t been only 8 weeks – it feels like it’s been over a year. And in my dog/cancer year I have learned a great deal. Not only about my own dealings with cancer, but also how difficult it can be for friends of those with cancer. Unfortunately there is no manual (trust me, I’ve searched the shelves!), so I thought it might be helpful to periodically post things I’ve learned along the way. These are just general tips for anyone supporting someone with cancer, some of which I have read on support websites, or in my ever-expanding library of “life with cancer” books (What your friends with cancer want you to know (but are afraid to say) and “Crazy Sexy Cancer” by Kris Carr). I really recommend “Crazy Sexy Cancer” for anyone wanting a more in-depth look at life with cancer.

One of the first things I have learned in my crash course in Cancer 101 is that it’s okay to not know what to say. “Cancer” is a scary word, a four-letter word, and it’s hard for those outside of it to know what to say or do. Heck, it’s hard to know what to say or do even for those who are inside of it. If it’s hard for me, and for those immediately around me who have had practice day in and day out since my diagnosis, it’s understandably difficult for those who are outside of it to know how to handle such news.  But just know that you don’t have to know exactly what to say. Even just saying nothing, just calling to say hi, that you’re thinking of me, is greatly appreciated. To quote my favorite movie: “The odd thing about this form of communication is that you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many somethings.” I would love to talk about nothing with you!

I am still learning through this experience, and over the coming months my moods will change, and my comfort level for discussing everything will change. Follow my lead. If I change the subject from talking about cancer, please go with it. I may have had an overwhelming and trying day. Or sometimes it’s been a fabulously normal day and I want to enjoy a little bit more “normal” without cancer.

Cancer is impacting my life, but it is not my life. Yes, it’s okay to check on me, but sometimes ask “what’s up” instead of “how are you feeling”. It is great to talk about life outside of cancer. And I want to hear all about your life! Just because I am going through a surprising and difficult time does not mean that I don’t want to hear about the good things going on for you. By the same token, it’s also okay to tell me about the not-so-good things. Yes, I have cancer, and it sucks, but that doesn’t take away from the difficulties that you might be experiencing.

As I’m sure you can imagine, a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. Day to day I receive new test results, new information on treatments, battle with insurance companies, and deal with the reality of my diagnosis. Please forgive me if I forget to call you back, or to return your text or email, or to write you a card. But don’t think that your calls/texts/emails/cards don’t mean everything to me! I love hearing from you, and all of the ways you reach out mean a great deal!

As always, thank you all SO much for the prayers and support along the way!

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