People assume that writers have the right words for any occasion. That theory may hold true if you give me ample time to craft something. However, there are times when I have been known to stumble all over myself.
Wakes and funerals are particularly challenging for me. But nothing trips me up like my attempts to offer support to someone either suffering from a serious illness or acting as caretaker for a loved one similarly stricken.
I still cringe over a decade later when I remember my interactions with a neighbor battling the ravages of cancer. I ran into her periodically during her treatment, brought the family dinners and each time I managed to overthink what I was going to say. I came away from those encounters knowing she did not feel the warmth and support I desperately wanted to convey. Sadly, she left us still not knowing how I cried and prayed for her and her family for years.
I should have gone with what I was feeling instead of thinking, Yet, I believe society struggles with this situation and how to react. If you are not in someone’s inner circle, how much should you say? Ask questions or no? Play dumb lest they get the impression that the gossip mill is alive and well?
These are the questions that addled me.
Lately, I’ve been offered a different perspective. Through it, I realize I am not giving people enough credit. When you care, it is in your body language and demeanor, even if the words are not Hallmark card perfect.
It is clear now because I am the one who is ill.
After hearing of my cancer diagnosis, I have witnessed friends and family falter too. Encounters are often awkward, but the sentiment is right there on the surface for all to see and more importantly, feel.
I know when someone says, “Thyroid cancer is the one you want,” it is an attempt to make me feel better without citing cure rates. They are not trying to diminish the fact that the overall situation stinks. Acquaintances whom I’ve not told directly are unsure if they should mention it. One look in their eyes conveys their concern with no words necessary. Having walked in their shoes, no judgment about their reaction will come from me.
Perhaps we carry our own battle scars into these interactions. With a mother who survived cancer within two years of my father succumbing too young, I am keenly aware that there is no rhyme or reason to the outcome. No one can state with any certainty that it will be OK. After all, who doesn’t have a cancer story that personally touched their lives?
The narrative in my head these days isn’t always positive. The endless doctor appointments and prodding. The reality of putting a check next to the cancer box in your patient profile forever. Every twinge or cough immediately raising doubt about whether it has spread. All making hope a permanent condition.
To me, cancer is like the ocean. With the murky unknown lurking just under the surface, moments of relaxation are uncommon. On those rare days, you drift on a swell effortlessly. Conversely, on most others, you are fighting for footing and desperate for the safe harbor of the shoreline.
That sanctuary comes in many forms and from many sources. I feel the support from every facet of my life so surely, as if it is a living, breathing thing walking alongside me on this journey.
Whether it is an inspiring story of survivorship, a hesitant inquiry about my progress, a generous offer of help or just a look of concern and solidarity silently conveyed—it all brings me solace.
In the words of Thema Davis, “When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words.” This wise sentiment will be my mantra when attempting to help someone through their personal storm just as so many have been steadfast as I weather mine.