Constant Reader, I have a few dear friends who have expressed—with admirable honesty—that they do no know what to say when they see me. This post is my attempt to address that situation.
I recognize in advance that I'm...different. I think different. What works for me may not work for others. With that written, I share this with you for two reasons:
- Some of you don't know how to talk with me while cancer sits in the room with us. This is a guide.
- Some of you will find yourself in a similar situation.
This is food for thought.
If it works for you, share and enjoy.
If it doesn't, please give me feedback.
I am not alone in my journey—we're in this together.
Cancer sucks the suckiest suckage that ever suckily sucked.
It throws grenades into your comfort zones and prances merrily away, singing an off-key, off-color song of joy and despair. Cancer is The Joker; but it's more ruthless.
I know conversation can be awkward. It works both ways.
Well-meaning people ask me, "How are you doing?"
What am I to say?
Here are some of the answers I've found myself giving:
- I'm surviving.
- How are YOU doing?
- I'm pounding nails into the floor with my forehead.
I never know how I'm going to answer. On a few occasions, my mouth responded while my brain considered, and I was surprised to hear that someone had something to day. It's weird to hear yourself as a third party.
So, in the interest of making this a little easier for both of us, I offer a few guidelines.
At no point will I be snarky or sarcastic. I may be direct—uncomfortably so—and I may be funny—terminally so—but I respect you. I won't dishonor the gift of your time and attention.
Though, I may poke fun at us both.
Own It.You're uncomfortable. You're scared—maybe for me, likely for you. If you visit me in the hospital, you'll see needles and tubes and bags and scars and god-knows-what-else.
Own your discomfort. Own your fear. Nothing is quite so awkard for me as to sit watching and listening to a friend mumble and bobble and wheedle around their discomfort—as though I would be offended.
You can't offend me.
You can make me uncomfortable.
So, I say to you with absolute honesty and respect:
Process your process somewhere else. If you can't deal with it; I understand. Please be honest with yourself. Recognize what you can do, and what you can't do. Own your limits.
I would help you if I could. But I'm going through hell. I don't have the energy to help you.
Ask for the Word of the Day.
I was on the phone with a dear friend. She said:
How are you doing? Aw, man, that was dumb...I'm not going to ask you that anymore. You know what? From now on, I'm going to ask you the word of the day. So, What's the word of the day?She did all of that without breathing. Caffeine: it's not just for breakfast anymore.
I thought it absurdly clever. What a great way to approach the situation! It takes all the pressure off me (to respond), yet it communicates concern.
And it allows me to say what I need to say without detailing it. Among my responses thusfar:
- Fuckity fuck fuck.
- Little Angels.
So, if you can't think of anything to say, we can play the "word of the day" game.
Deal with it.Faeces occurs.
I have yet to have a single moment of "Oh, woe is me!"
I have not asked the fates "What have I done to deserve this?"
It's not where I am or where I plan to be.
If I can deal with it, so can you.
It really, really sucks. That's absolutely true.
So, let's agree that it sucks. Now, let's move past it. I can't change it, and neither can you. Let's work together to deal with what is in front of us—not what might have, could have, should have, would have been.
We're here. Now.
Let's rock this town.
I'm going to be on STD. That's Short Term Disability to some of you.
To others, it's Sexually Transmitted Disease.
Laugh. It's funny.
I have one testicle. People still bust my balls. I ask them to "stop busting my ball".
They stop, confused.
Laugh. It's funny.
After my RPLND surgery, all the surgical fluid had to go somewhere. Gravity means it goes...down. And what's down? Yep. Ballsack.
I awoke one morning to a scrotum the size of a grapefruit, and sitting on top of it...a penis the size and shape of a Roma tomato.
And it's needed.
Speak Your Truth.Say whatever is honest for you. It may be a conversation stopper, true. But it may open up new channels of thought, it may grow our relationship.
You. Don't. Know.
The single greatest gift you can give me is your honesty.
Don't Waste the Opportunity.Life's too short to drink cheap wine. Or beer. Or scotch. You get the idea.
I could be dead in six months. So could you.
If I've been a bastard toward you; if I've screwed up our friendship, or hurt you in some way, now's your chance. Let me know. Give me the opportunity to make things right.
I have some things to say to some of you. I plan to say those things. I have nothing to hide and everything to gain. Same goes for you.
Let's live these moments like they matter.
Don't Be Pollyanna.If you tell me that everything will be OK, that everything happens for a reason, or any such platitude, mean it.
A lot of people use those phrases in the absence of anything else to say.
I don't need it, and I don't want it—if it isn't real.
If you truly believe it, rock on! Say it! Own it!
But don't say it to me to convince yourself. That's cheating.
Have faith in your faith.
It's a beautiful thing.
Be Positive.There will be times that I can't see the good.
There already have been times when people have said to me: "You'll have the chemo, and you'll kick its ass, and in the long run you'll be fine."
And I've responded thusly:
Good. Hold that for me. Keep believing and saying that. I can't. It's not me. I'm not wired that way, so I need you to do it for me.
Do it for me.
I appreciate it.
Respect Silence.Not every silence is an awkward silence. Some of the most precious times we will spend together are those when we are comfortable in our quietude.
We spend a lot of energy filling the silences between us.
Let's enjoy the time we have together.
Be Ready To Talk About Anything.I see a lot. I hear a lot. I read a metric shit-ton.
I retain a lot, and I piece it together.
I see life as a grand jigsaw puzzle that comes in an unmarked box. There's no photo to guide me, but that doesn't stop me from gathering pieces and fitting them together, forming an image. It's one of life's joys for me.
And I do love to talk about the interconnectedness of all things.
Look, I'm no great pop-culture gossip maven. Which Hollywood starlet sleeps with which Hollywood starlet ain't the stuff of my interest (unless there are photos...'natch!). Stories are.
You have stories. Some are fascinating. Some are crap. But they're all yours—and that's what matters. You see, in my soon-to-be-unfuzzy head, your stories and my stories and his stories and her stories all mash together, and together they become my world.
I just read something today that captures it brilliantly:
Tom: It's— It's a story. It's just a story, man. It's not worth dying for.
Ambrosio: Just a story? Tell that to the greeks who fought at Troy, Tommy. Tell the women burned as witches. The Rosenbergs. Sacco and Vanzetti. Tell the Martyrs of all the religions and the millions who fell in all the wars since time began! Stories are the only thing worth dying for!
Tell me stories. Tell me lies. Let's piece together this puzzle we're living!
I'm going to say shit, deal with it.I'll be sick. I'm going to be in my own private corner of hell.
I will be hurting. I'm going to say things. And I'm going to mean them.
I hope I am not hurtful...or mean.
In the moment they come out of my mouth, they will be a kind of truth, though they may not be Truth.
Don't be offended; or at least, try not to be offended.
I'll plead the Puck defense:
If we shadows have offended,Drugs affect people. I'm going to be on some spectacular drugs. Please know that inside that fog...is me. I'm there, struggling.
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
Please give me the benefit of the doubt.
When in Doubt, Be You.
I appreciate any time or attention you can spare for me. Connecting with you—even tenuously—helps me to connect to the big, wide world. When you're as alone as I am going to be—alone in my pain and my illness—that connection is everything.
So, be you. I like you. I might even love you. And that counts for a lot.
At least for me.
What will be will be what will be.
We've go this.