I didn’t tell many people this week that I had a biopsy on a mysterious and fast growing lump (whom we shall call “Fred”) in my neck. That the doctor said the word “cancer” and then stuck three fine needles in my neck to draw out cells and send them away to see what they were. I didn’t tell many people that I woke up every night this week around 2 am with a panicky pit in the space right below my heart. That I ran harder and faster than ever before in a 5k the day after that biopsy, even though my neck still hurt, needing to prove with every step that I was healthy and alive.
But the people I did tell, a few of them said “oh that’s an easy cancer, the EASIEST.”
So that, right there, that phrase? That’s the wrong one. Cause it made me think “oh so I might have the GOOD kind of cancer? High fives all around! Excuse me while I fist bump and eat cake over here with my ROCKIN maybe-cancer!”
I know they meant well- I know they were protecting themselves with this statement, totally re-assuring themselves that their loved one (me) would in all likelihood be fine. I know this, because I did it once. Someone I was very much in love with, really at the precipice of falling in love with (which is almost worse), got cancer. And my reaction was to say, out loud, to him, over and over that my Dad had the same thing and it would be FINE. His treatment was quick and easy and cancer would be a breezy walk in the park, almost a vacation. Like Hawaii, with maybe one less fruity drink.
This week, I remembered that moment. And got it. GOT IT. That was a shitty, shitty thing to have said to someone just diagnosed. So, now having been on both sides of this conversation, here’s what might be some of the right things to say:
1. I love you and I am here.
2. How can I support you?
3. Do you want to talk about it? If not, that’s ok too.
4. Do you want a glass of wine? Yes? I’ll keep em coming.
5. I know you don’t know what you need right now, but say the word and I’ll make it happen.
Those are just options. Not law. But better options than “that’s totally the easy cancer.” Cause that is a little bit bordering on the “silver lining” syndrome I am super not fond of. And this is my opinion, so take it how you will… though I suspect I am not alone in this.
And for the record, we got the great news today that Fred is benign. I’ll need surgery at some point, but there were no apparent cancer cells in those samples and THAT is the easy cancer– the NO CANCER.