Look, here’s the thing. If I’ve told you I am a metastatic (also sometimes called Stage IV) cancer patient, there are some things that I’ve already heard and don’t need to hear again:
But you have your hair.
But you look so good.
But you are able to volunteer.
But at least you’re here.
At least it’s breast cancer, you’re lucky it’s not something worse.
But you’re okay, now, right?
But you’re only taking pills, it’s not REALLY chemo. I mean you don’t go to the hospital or get an IV or something like that.
You beat it before, you’ll beat it this time too.
Here’s what I’d like to hear:
That sucks. Can I help you?
How are you doing with it?
Does it limit you?
Or even tell me you don’t know what to say!
Other topics to consider:
If I’m up and moving, please treat me normally. I’m trying very hard to be “normal” for a bit.
Tell me what is going on in your life. I’d love to focus on something outside of my or my house.
I understand you feel sorry for me, or you think I must be really strong, or that I’m such a positive person. It’s hard to find that balance of accepting the compliment, but assuring you I’m still human. Complete with all the human failings and problems.
What you don’t see is the time I spend sitting in the bed, my feet stretched out. My tears when I just HURT from pushing myself too hard. My fear of leaving my family behind (will they be okay without me?). The hours I spend waiting in doctor’s offices, getting labs drawn or my monthly bone strength injections, or during previous IV infusions. The time when I just need to cry because I’m overwhelmed and can’t stop the thoughts swirling around in my brain. The hours I can’t sleep. The amount of prescription medicines in my cabinet or the supplements I take to assist my body as it attempts to heal. And yet, at 10 pills a day, I’m on the low end of the cancer spectrum. Yes, 10 pills a day is MINIMAL for many cancer patients.
If you’ve said these things to me in the past, know that I’m not angry with you anymore. I’ve worked hard to take what you said balanced by how you meant it. Whether you meant to encourage me, or don’t exactly know what to say but felt you had to say something. Or maybe, you’ve never known someone like me; a metastatic patient that isn’t at death’s door right now. At any rate, the words aren’t as important as actions. Thank you for walking alongside me, as we navigate this thing called LIFE.