Talking about cancer

Earlier this week we found out that my Dad’s cancer had returned. It’s really strange the emotions you go through when hearing news like that, well more so when you know that this time there is no cure. It is also quite interesting watching how other people respond to your bad news and in particular the language that they use (what can I say I can’t help it – I’m an obsessive people watcher, it’s what I was trained to do!)

I heard the news late afternoon and shared it with one or two people, emailed my close colleagues that evening, then later that night posted a blog about it, told a few more friends the next day and there are some that I’ve yet to tell. It’s really strange. You realise that it is devastating news for you, but you also know that other people are facing their own daily challenges and it isn’t, nor should it be, their problem.

Consequently the way in which people react is fascinating to me. I have had some really supportive emails and messages on twitter, some lovely texts, fabulous phonecalls and of course people who have silently supported me, saying nothing as I had a mini-meltdown and lost the plot slightly. I’ve yet to get a real life hug off anyone except my folks, although I have been lucky enough to get lots of virtual ones and my Grandad squeezed my arm today – which is very effusive for him.

So thank you to each and every one of you who has been in touch since Monday. What follows is a list of conclusions I’ve drawn up in the past couple days, that may be of interest! They’re my thoughts and reflections, can’t claim they’d work for anyone else but here you go….

  • don’t worry about trying to find the right thing to say – it is such bad news, there is no right thing!
  • it is always better to say something, even if you’re worried you’ll say the wrong thing. One of my colleagues simply said ‘I’m sorry’ – she couldn’t have said anything else and had such a positive impact.
  • please, please, please don’t ask how things are if you only have 60 secs – it makes you feel awful when you are trying to share your experience with someone and you notice the other person getting fidgety and clock watching; by all means shut me up after five mins if I’m going on but probably best not to ask about it if you can’t spare the time to hear the answer – much better to just offer to catch up at a later stage.
  • one of my colleagues returned from holiday and I could tell they were catching up on emails (as my own inbox gradually swelled); I returned from a meeting to a voicemail they’d left having read my email. I don’t think I’d have previously phoned someone and been so upfront on reading such news but I really appreciated it and suspect I might revert to phonecalls in future situations as it was lovely to have such a personal offering of support – I guess I’m too wedded to my keyboard and inbox!
  • please do offer support, I really can’t imagine relying too much on other people for support (certainly not at the moment) but I do genuinely feel supported and like I can take people up on their offers if I need to – most common offer has been for cake, tea or alcohol – guess I’m as transparent as a window 😉
  • ask someone if they want to talk about it – depending on the time of day, what else is going on, how many times they’ve retold the story already that day they may want to talk, they may not – it’s always a relief to get the option.
  • be warned that if you are really nice you might elicit tears. This is not necessarily a bad thing and certainly doesn’t mean that the person you are talking to is crumbling in front of you because of what you said – I’ve always been the same, I can plot my reaction to extreme stress as follows: anger, frustration, tears, more frustration, resolution. Actually maybe that’s a little idealised, there can be tears anywhere along the way, but usually when people are nice to me – so for me anyway, if you make me cry, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  • please, please, please don’t think just because there is big stuff going on in my life, I don’t want to hear about the stuff going on in yours. Life is about perspective, I get that cancer and death are show stealers but I’m no less interested in your scandal, gossip, love life, mundane everyday stories, tweets, emails, holidays, haircuts or anything else. Oh go on then, if you want to pity me bake me cake and give me less work to do, but no really, don’t modify your conversations on my account. I know when Dad was very ill last time I developed an almost obsessive interest in the lives of my mates – because I wanted a reminder of normality and a reassurance that normality (whatever that might look like) would return. So please don’t change for me!
  • related to the last point really, just because we’ve had bad news it doesn’t mean that my sense of humour organ has been removed. In my experience one of the best ways to deal with cancer, illness, or most of the other stuff thrown at us in life is to laugh about it, so please keep the smutty jokes coming 😉

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11 thoughts on “Talking about cancer

  1. Shit, I missed your news? didn’t know it was definitely back 😦 – and now I’m stuck with choosing which option on how to respond 😉 (Now there’s a suggestion for a blog post – how to cope with there always being someone else who doesn’t know.)

    Great piece though – and excellent advice for responding to lots of rough news topics – much wider than cancer.

  2. You are always welcome to Hugs & Cakes should you be passing my neck of the woods or vice versa me passing you 🙂 Can’t guarantee the quality of hugs, but the cakes are always good.

  3. I’ve only just caught this news (been buried in projects this week), so let me start by saying “I’m sorry”. I am. What rotten horrible news!

    I feel like the main thing I can offer is my company, but I’m very happy to do that. Want to chat on Twitter? Find yourself up in London? Want to talk about it? Specifically want to hang out and not talk about it? 🙂

    For me, when my dad was so sick, one of the worst parts was feeling so isolated with it all. If we can help by giving you a way to feel a bit less alone, to not quite have to go through it by yourself, then I’m very happy to be a part o that. Serious convos, gossip, or chats about the day. Whatever.

    (And virtual hugs. Real ones if we’re near each other!)

  4. I’m defo gonna take advantage of this situation and insist we share some ginger cake and tea, which you’ll have to bake coz I’m rubbish and I haven’t got a teapot either. In return you can have a hug! Deal or no deal? 😉

  5. This is the blog entry I knew I’d read one day, but I was hoping you wouldn’t have to post it so soon. I had a long journey with my father-in-law and his cancer, so I understand where you are, and what’s ahead of you.

    My own father died when I was sixteen. He felt tired on a Thursday evening, sick on Friday morning, and he died Monday lunchtime, leaving me and my mum in shock and trying to figure out how to run the family business. Years later, I got married and acquired a wonderful father-in-law, John, and it felt so good to have a father again, and I loved him and made sure I enjoyed him. And John had a long, drawn-out battle with cancer.

    I remember the years when it was treatable, and the time were told that it wasn’t treatable any longer. And I can tell you that bereavement is all about loss, and I’m sure you will always want more of your dad. But compared to the shock of a sudden death, the long journey with a cancer offers a person and their loved ones the chance to prepare for what’s ahead, take stock of life, fulfil a few ambitions, forgive some old quarrels, and love, and celebrate, and enjoy life while you can.

    He is yours, and you are his, and how lucky you both are to be close and to love one another as you do. Shed tears whenever you need to, but share love as often as you can.

  6. Not good… my Dad is still clear but who knows for how long. A dear friend of mine dropped dead 12 days ago, he has two young children (aged 10 & 12 years), he was out on a bike ride with them at the time. There is no sense to it, he was one of the good guys and is now gone. Why is a question to which none has an answer? But it is the question we all ask. Madness.

    1. Skingers I am sooo sorry to hear that. That is shocking. There are definitely no answers to why, my thoughts go to you and his family and friends – I am very grateful that we are all adults and while we might not understand why we can (mostly) comprehend what is going on – I don’t know how his children will cope, that is just devastating. They might find http://www.winstonswish.org.uk helpful tho. Thoughts are with you all.

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