I’ve found people’s reactions to the news of my cancer both very interesting and a source of great support. I’d say I’ve been contacted personally by well over 150 people, near and far, over the past 2 weeks. It’s been a huge help and I’m truly grateful for everyone’s concern and well wishes.
I’ve seen a few types of reactions and I’ve been ok with all of them and the nurse actually had a conversation with me about this. The fact is that everyone else has to deal with the news in the best way they can and the closer they are to you and the more emotive it becomes and the more leeway you need to give them to deal with it in the way that is best for them.
The reactions of my friends fall into a few different categories:
- Shock and horror- The world is going to end.
- Outright dismissal – You’ve only got a little cancer so no need for concern. Breast cancer isn’t really a thing any more.
- Objective/project management-style support – This translates into a step-by-step approach.
- A lot of compassion – Lots of messages and hugs and emoticons flying around.
- Speechlessness – Your friend who’s usually in daily contact disappears as s/he doesn’t in fact know what to say.
It’s all helpful. The first acknowledges it’s actually a big deal. The second brings you back to the great results in the field of breast cancer and the reassuring survival rates, especially for someone like me. The third, the project management people, help you focus on taking things one day at a time and not getting upset about unknowns. The fourth keep you going because even if people can’t be present in your life, you know that their thoughts are with you and it means a lot. The fifth reminds you that this is also hard on other people and it’s not just your problem.
If you are reading this and you are one of the people who don’t know what to say to your friend, I can say that it doesn’t matter too much. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have something original to say, it doesn’t matter that you can’t fix it. It does make a difference to say you care in whatever way you do.
If your friend with cancer is emotional, angry or doesn’t seem positive to you, she might not be in control of her emotions. I was frustrated the first week of living with this because I’d be fine one moment and then without warning be in floods of tears. I honestly didn’t have any control over it. It is a shock and when it settles down you will get your friend back. It needs time. Allow her to freak a bit.
I would say that if your friend has an early case of breast cancer and a good prognosis, try not to dismiss it as no big deal, but do acknowledge the positives. I certainly don’t host the worst case scenario breast cancer can offer, and I am so grateful for that, but the thought of the surgery puts me on edge, radiation scares me quite a lot and I can’t even talk about chemo or hormone therapy. I don’t have space for that in my head yet. Missing the next 2-3 weeks of work troubles me.
Not knowing what I’m dealing with is difficult. My diagnosis might stay the same, it might be worse, and, hey, it might even turn out better than I thought. I just don’t know and this ignorance gives me no bliss.