Your friend says “I have cancer,” and you say…

I try to not to give advice. Unsolicited advice seems like a passive-aggressive way to comment on another person’s choices.

But…I felt like this was too important not to share. I’m not framing it as advice, just an experiential tidbit from what has come to pass with me.

The fact is, when you tell people you have cancer, they don’t know how to react. And that is a-ok. We all know cancer happens, but we hope it never happens near us, and there’s no reason to walk around expecting to have to react to news of a cancer diagnosis (that would be worrisome; please don’t walk around expecting that).

In any case, once your life gets upended by getting the cancer diagnosis, you have to tell people for various reasons. Because travel plans must be cancelled. Because you can’t get out of bed for a few days in a row. Because your hair fell out and now you look like a badass, e.g., Ripley from Alien. Etc.

I’ve been thinking about it, though, and the most comforting reactions I had all had the same thing in common. The person I told would pause for a moment and then say (in person) or write back (if over email): “That must have been hard for you to tell me.”

Do you know how great it is to have a person acknowledge the difficulty of carrying around and doling out cancer diagnosis news? It made me feel like – reminded me that I am – a person with lots of feelings, rather than a sick, scared husk of disease (which is how I felt most of the time).

I remember everyone who reacted that way, and treated me with that tiny extra bit of dignity. To anyone who reads this: maybe this post will help you someday, even if I hope you never need the advice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s