Sunday, June 14, 2015

When Someone You Love Has Cancer

It's hard to know what to say and what not to say to someone that is battling cancer. It's an ugly disease. Maybe you just want to hide from your friend or loved one until they are better so you don't have to deal with it. That's normal. If you do hide from them though don't expect them to welcome you back into their life with open arms when and if they do feel better. It's a sad, awkward and scary time for all involved. I have learned there are cliche things that people say that really don't help. It's not your fault if you say them or have said them. Hell, I've said some of these things to people before I learned the hard way there are times hearing them makes the patient want scream in frustration. 

I love my friends and I love the few members of my family that have been and are there for me while I'm coping with this. I love that even though they don't know what to say and sometimes I'm overwhelmed I know all they are doing and saying is out of concern and genuine affection. I will never forget those that are there for me.  

All said though I'm writing a list of things that are said often to cancer patients, how these things make me feel and what you might say instead. 

1. “But it's only temporary and I bet it will grow back even nicer than it was before! It may even be a different color.”

I know it's only temporary but right now it sucks and when you have cancer you know that there is always the possibility of “right now” being all you have. As a woman my hair represents part of my femininity and who I am. I loved my hair. My hair was beautiful and part of my identity and now it is gone. It adds insult to injury to belittle the loss of my hair.

Instead, tell me you like the scarf I'm wearing or if you're comfortable with it tell me you don't mind if I hang out with you bald-headed because honestly, scarves are hot and wigs are hot and itchy. You don't have to say anything at all about my appearance. Seriously, I know I'm not looking my best.

2. “Are you going to get new boobs? Oh my god! You're so lucky that your insurance will pay for you to get a boob job!”

Really? Yes, this has been said to me. It's not a “boob job”. It's a radical, bilateral mastectomy. They will remove every bit of breast tissue I have, the surrounding lymph nodes and my nipples. If I choose to have reconstruction I will still have scars and fake breasts which will have lost all the sensitivity they once had. I will look like a scarred Barbie and have to have the implants replaced every ten years or so. Tell me again how “lucky” I am.

Instead, just don't say anything at all about this. It's a very personal thing and if I choose to share it with you fine. If not it quite frankly is none of your business.

3.  “I know what you're going through. I had a friend that had that same kind of cancer. She died...but oh, there are so many advancements now. I'm sure you'll be fine.”

I don't want to hear about your friend, relative or anyone else that died from this. The possibility of my death is something I'm very aware of without being reminded. And no, you aren't “sure I'll be fine”. I'm not sure I'll be fine. I'm hopeful as you are but to tell me you're sure I'll be fine feels like you are brushing off my very serious illness. Is it to make me feel better or yourself? And no, unless you have or have had cancer, you have no idea what I'm going through. I took care of my husband for 19 months before he died of colon cancer and in no way did I know what he was going through.

Instead, tell me you hope I'll be okay.

4.  “I know you're not a Christian but maybe now would be the time to start praying and to accept Jesus into your life.”

I'm not a Christian. Why would getting cancer turn me into a Christian? Why would I pray to a god I don't believe in? That wouldn't make me a Christian. It would make me a hypocrite. If you want to pray for me, I thank you. I will accept any type of positive energy and I feel a prayer for something helpful for a person is positive energy but I, personally, don't pray.

Instead, if you wish to pray for me, then tell me you'll say a prayer for me. I appreciate it. I appreciate the sentiment. It means a lot to me that a person would take time out of their busy life to petition the universe on my behalf.

5.  “You just need to stay strong.”

By saying this to me I feel like you don't see me at all. You have no idea how much strength I have or how much it takes just to get out of bed some days. I have no choice but to stay strong but there are days when I need to lay in bed all day. It's not me being weak. It's me so ill and in so much pain I can't do any more than that. There are times when the exhaustion takes over and just the energy it takes to shower is more than I can wrap my mind around.

Instead, tell me what my son told me, perfect words, “your strength has not gone unnoticed.”

6.  “Think positive.”

Again, when I'm told this I feel like you don't see me or know me. No one is positive all the time. I'm fighting. I'm trying. I want to beat this thing. Because I sometimes get overwhelmed or afraid isn't me being negative. It's me being human.

Instead, recognize how hard I am trying. Recognize that although I don't do as much as I used to that I do still do things. I do still make plans. What are plans if not a positive thought that I will still be here to fulfill those plans?

7.    Lastly, there are times I simply don't want to talk about my illness. I'm me. I'm the same person I have always been. I may not have hair and I may not look as good as I once did but my heart is still the same. I still laugh at the same things.  Heck! I laugh at myself all the time. And sometimes, if you're one of my close friends, it's okay to make stupid jokes about my bald head, my bruised arms or my very white face.  I still care about the same things I always did. I didn't tell everyone when I first learned of my illness because I didn't want to be “my friend with cancer”. I just wanted to be me. I still want to hang out with you. I still want to meet for coffee or lunch or just to hang out. I may not be able to stay out all day or night but I still want to see my friends. I still want to have gab fests on the phone and catch up on the latest gossip. I still want to make fun of the Walmart fashion parade. I still want to do shots of tequila (although it isn't advised so maybe just one or two)  I am still here and I am still me. 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Goober Grape?

Who Invented Goober Grape?

I have these odd “why?” thoughts that pop into my head frequently. At times I picture these thoughts as if they are kernels of popcorn simmering in one of the old fashioned oil poppers. They start as a seed then simmer for a bit before they explode in my brain like a little bit of air and fluff with that annoying kernal that will be stuck in my teeth for hours. I will worry it with my tongue without ceasing rather than grab a bit of floss to get it out.

My husband used to refer to these thoughts as my “blue food moments” because the first time he witnessed one escape the confines of my brain, I had looked at him in the middle of a completely irrelevant conversation and asked, “Why are raspberry ice pops blue?” This was and remains a valid question to me. Raspberries are either red or black...not blue. If you crush them you get a mush that in no way resembles anything blue. It really makes no sense. Orange flavored pops are orange. Strawberry are red. Lime is green and so on. None of the other flavors have coloring causing them to resemble anything other than what they should be.

I have had so many of these random little thoughts that in an effort not to clog my brain I have a file in My Documents simply named “Why”.

One of the most nonsensical things I have seen is Goober Grape. If you're not familiar with this food item, it is a jar containing alternating vertical strips of peanut butter and grape jelly. Has our society become so lazy that it is too taxing for us to open separate jars of peanut butter and jelly? Neither one of these are items that use a large amount of space so it's not an attempt at space saving. I keep my peanut butter in my pantry and my jelly in the refrigerator. If I were to purchase Goober Grape I would have to choose where to store it. If I opted for the refrigerator, the peanut butter would be so hard I wouldn't be able to spread it. If the pantry won the toss, the jelly would get watery and runny and soak into the bread and that seems very unappealing. No, Goober Grape is something that just shouldn't be. It goes against the laws of the sacred PB&J sandwich. Peanut butter is to be spread on one side of the bread and jelly is to be spread in globs on the other side. Then the peanut butter side is flipped onto the jelly side and as the sandwich is eaten flavors are allowed to mingle as you chew filling your mouth with yumminess.

Don't even get me started on make-up mirrors in cars....that's a whole different rambling.

Friday, December 11, 2009

For My Friend

My first blog. It won't be witty or lighthearted as I had imagined my blog posts to be. They were to be filled with humorous little anecdotes and clever musings. However, yesterday I lost a friend.

It's odd the way we word things. “I lost a friend” or “they passed on”. Why don't we say, “they died”? Is that too in-your-face? Does saying the words make it too final? If we “lost” them then does that mean in the near future we will find them? Perhaps we just misplaced them and someday when we are cleaning we will move a sofa and there they will be covered in dust bunnies and just waiting for us to clean them off and move them to the place of honor that they deserve. If they've passed on, where have they passed on to? Is it easier for us, in our mind, to picture them on a grand vacation somewhere? Now, don't get me wrong. I do believe that when a person dies that their soul goes somewhere. I don't presume to know where exactly it goes to but I have to believe that this short life where we stumble along bumping into people, forming relationships, having children, working at jobs and just living doesn't end because our heart stops beating and our brain ceases to function.

I don't face death with fear but the process of getting there is slightly unsettling. I believe that the soul is comprised of energy. Before we were conceived that energy was somewhere. We know not where but it existed. Yet, we don't remember where we were. When we were conceived we lived in a perfect and safe environment within our mother's womb. We were nourished, warm and safe within what was at that time, our world. Then one day there was pain and fear as we were expelled from that safe haven into what we now know as our life. But in retrospect, wasn't that a form of death...our birth? It was the death of that perfect place that was all we knew. Yet again, we don't remember it. And now, in this life, when we reach the end, we sometimes have to suffer pain and fear before we experience the death of the life that we know. Are we being born into another existence? I choose to believe that is exactly what happens. Will we remember this life when we move on? I don't know but I also don't believe that it really matters. It's like sleep. We don't always remember our dreams but we always have them. This life happened regardless of whether we remember it or not there will be people who's lives we touched that will remember us. They will keep our memory alive through pictures, conversations and the love that we left with them.

And so, for my friend, Patti, I will keep your memory alive. Patti was an extraordinary woman that lived an amazing life. She traveled and she touched so many lives during her short time here. She was a woman of faith with a heart of pure gold. She was feisty and opinionated but at the end of the day she was a person that loved her friends and family with a fierceness that was at times overwhelming to those she loved.

I will never forget the times I spent with her trudging the boardwalk at Venice Beach and the way she tolerated me being a tourist with humor and patience. She laughed at the way I had to stop and put a dollar in every can of every person with a “Will work for marijuana” sign, street musician, mime or just outright beggar. She enjoyed my wide-eyed wonder at Hollywood and said graciously that it didn't matter that she'd been there hundreds of times that because it was my first time it made it seem like she was seeing it for the first time also. She introduced me to her friends in Crestline and to her mother and son. When I was with her I felt accepted and special. But it wasn't me that was special, it was her.

I'll never forget the first time I flew from Connecticut to California to see her. She greeted me at the airport with a huge hug and there was none of the awkward, silent gaps that have need to be filled with words. We talked and laughed and explored Los Angeles County like old friends.

When my husband became terribly ill, Patti called me the morning after we found out, after a sleepless night, and didn't even say “hello”. Her first words to me were, “Why are you scared?”. During his illness she was also suffering her own health battles but she would fluff off her own pain when I asked her about it because she was more worried about me and my husband than she was about herself. We called each other every day that was possible and across the miles we were each others' shoulder to cry on. Even at the end of her life she always thought of others. The last two times I spoke to her were November 16th, the morning my husband died and November 17th when she called me to tell me that she was in the hospital in I.C.U. but not to worry,that she would be okay. She just didn't want me to worry about her. She never did leave the hospital but in my heart I know that she is “okay”. She suffers no longer and she has gone through the pain and fear and has taken that step from this life to be born into the next.

Patti, I love you. You were my friend and I will miss you every day. How I wish that I had indeed “lost” you and that I could pull out my sofa or stove and find you behind it covered in dust and bitching up a storm so that I could clean you up, sit you in a chair and make you a big bowl of ambrosia and watch a goofy old movie with you. You will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Brand Spankin' New Blog

Here it is! My spiffy, spankin', shiny new blog. Now I sit here looking at this blank little box on the screen of my trusty laptop wondering, "What do I blog about? What do I have to offer to the wonderful world of blog readers that hasn't already been written and read a million times over?" I could offer you bits of prose from the many poems that I have written. I can rant about the state of the economy but offer no good solution for fixing it (but then I would be a politician). I may entertain you with cute and funny anecdotes from my daily life. Perhaps I should blog about shoes as that is a subject I excel at. Or I can just randomly write about whatever happens to be on my mind at the moment.

Yes, a random blog seems the best course of action for me. I am one of those people who is creative in spurts. I live my life with both obsessive order and scattered randomness at the same time. Hey! Whatever works, right?

In closing my first, brief blog post I'll just say to stay tuned because you never know what bit of interest I may pull from my mind each day. It will be entertaining, for me at least, to see what I'm going to come out with.