I have never been one to mince words. I am about at REAL as it gets... but being real about cancer can get tough. I hate to complain. I hate to whine. So when people say, "How to do you feel?" I cringe. Do you want my REAL answer or my "fake it till I make it answer?" (FYI.. I HATE GIVING THE FAKE ANSWERS!) Real answer: I feel like hell. I am weak, exhausted and pretty barfy. I am craving weird crap and gag at the thought or mention of cheese. I feel like being bald makes my hips look bigger and I am trying to deal with the effects that chemo and steroids are having on my body without completely losing my shit.. and it isn't going great right this second. I am juggling my job, raising a MAN (who graduates from high school in a couple of months), trying not to fail as a fiance to the best guy ever, plus trying to keep the dishes done and wear clean panties and still smile. Fake answer: I'm ok. I have found that cancer makes it hard for ALL OF US to know what to say... You don't know what to ask, and I don't know how to answer - and we all end up in this crazy unspoken alternate universe where I am saying, "I'm ok." and you are saying, "You got this."
Well, I am going to let you in. I am gonna give crazy of the cuff realness. I will answer your weird questions. I will gladly give tips on what to say and what is going on behind the scenes of what cancer is like in my world (DISCLAIMER: EVERY ONE'S CANCER JOURNEY IS DIFFERENT - SO...DON'T EXPECT ALL CANCER PEEPS TO BE AS CRAZY AS ME....I personally am not the pink-ribbon wearing, breast cancer awareness gal... I just can't be that right now...)
When you don't know what to say or do:
FIRST AND FOREMOST: IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY... It is OK to say, "I don't know what to say..."
1. Cancer is pretty lonely - just saying, "You are brave." "You are loved." means SO much. Texts, FB messages, Post it notes, Cards in the mail, Outings any way that you can SHOW UP for the person is helpful.
2. When you say, "Call if you need something" - I am just gonna say it... I am not gonna call. I am a stubborn, obstinate and independent person. I hate asking for help. HATE IT!!! So if you offer something specific... "Can I bring you something from the store?", "Do you have laundry I can fold?" I will take you up on it... But if I call because I need something, that is sheer desperation, because I don't ask.
3. Permission to be pissy - Roid rage is real. I don't know what is worse - chemo drugs or steroids that go along with it... They make me super crazy. Chemo and steroids make simple tasks huge ordeals (shopping, cleaning, getting showered and dressed) so extra effort makes the roid snaps happen a little quicker. All I ask is that if I snap, or gripe or vent - please just give me a pass for now. We will hopefully remain friends and laugh about this later.
4. Hair loss - Everyone deals with this different. I am ok bald (except the making my hips look bigger part). But saying, "Not everyone loses their hair on chemo..." gives false hope and gets really annoying. Let's just say, "You are gonna look beautiful no matter what hairstyle you have." And for the love, PLEASE ask before you touch someone's bald head. And remember, even though they seem like they are confident - you never know what is going on in their heart and mind. Sensitivity and kindness go a long way.
5. Hugs: I get asked ALL OF THE TIME, "Can I hug you?" - I like hugs. Yes, you can hug me! UNLESS: You are sick (I can't risk getting your germs) OR It is 2-4 days post chemo and you want to hug me or pat me hard (I can't tell you how bad my joints and even my SKIN hurt after chemo) - be easy!
6. What is your stage/prognosis/who is your doctor? - I had someone ask me, "What is your prognosis?" I legit almost said, "Death!" (because we are ALL gonna die!!! heck, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow!!!) There are some questions that lead to unsolicited medical advice - or google links about your cancer and how to treat it. SO, those three questions - I really don't answer unless you are a family member or very close friend.
I have said it before, cancer is so weird. I have never felt so alone and supported at the same time. My best advice for dealing with a loved one's cancer is this: Be positive! Show up for them! Make them laugh! Don't expect them to call if they need something - if you see a need and you can help - just do it.. they will appreciate it! Give them permission to be pissy every now and then! Don't give unsolicited medical advice! Love on them as much as you can! Support their family members that have to see the daily stuff! and when in doubt... MAKE THEM LAUGH!!! I can't say that one enough... Laughter is amazing... and healing!