Friday, March 22, 2013

10 Things I've Learned from Cancer (Part One)

My Grandma Lang and Brian's Grandma Kosta had something interesting in common -- when they got into their golden years, they remained as sharp as a whip, but at the same time, their edit buttons started to dull. In other words, they said what was on their mind -- loudly, and without excuses or apologies (actually, they may have been doing that long before their golden years).

For one example, I'll never forget how much I wanted to hide under the table when my Grandma went on a rant about a young man wearing his baseball cap in the restaurant that we were visiting for dinner. I was sure that he could hear her, so it surprised me when he didn't just take his hat off to quiet her down. I tried to explain to her that he probably didn't mean any disrespect by it, but Grandma wasn't listening.

Tonight, I kind of feel like Grandma. It's too late for my edit button to be working -- the one that tells me that I should qualify what I'm saying so as not to offend anyone. So tonight, I'm just going to write, with that boisterous freedom that I'm pretty sure our Grandmas felt when they spoke.

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Today a fellow blogger published a blog entitled, "10 Things I've Learned from Cancer." As soon as I read the title, my mind started to race and I got that unstoppable urge to write. I wanted to keep reading Michael's blog too, but I stopped myself because I didn't want my mind to get stuck in his reflections before I had the chance to find my own. 

Of course, I felt like a terrible copycat so I checked in with Michael before I openly stole his idea. No surprise, he was gracious enough to tell me to Go for it! Just like he is, I'm curious to see if our lists have any points in common (I plan to read his blog for the first time after I publish my final list).  

So here are 10 Things I've Learned from Cancer (in no particular order). Over the next few days, I'll talk about each of them. For now, I'm going to expand only on the first one, with my edit button turned Off.

1.  Displays of love and support really can't go wrong -- unless they somehow suggest that cancer could kill me. Those ones have definitely gone wrong.  

I absolutely love everything about weddings -- except for one thing. There is one part of every wedding that makes me so anxious that I want to chug all of the champagne that's still left on the table. I'm talking about the time when the bride and groom come by and visit with the guests at the table. As the bride, I enjoyed the very haphazard and incomplete trip I took visiting tables around the function room. But as a guest, I dread that part of the night. 

I'm so terrified of the bride and groom at their wedding because no matter who it is, I don't ever feel like it's worth their time to stop and talk to me. If I'm at a wedding of someone I don't know very well, I figure they shouldn't waste a single moment of that precious night with me because they should really spend it with their close friends and family. If I'm at a wedding of a close friend or family member, I don't want them to waste their time with me because I know I've seen them before and will see them after. 

At the same time, I know I can't hide in the bathroom or pick the remaining pieces of cheese off the table in the lobby because then the bride and groom will think I didn't care enough to say hello. Yikes, I'm getting anxious just thinking about this. 

Then comes the worst part -- what to say when faced with the newlyweds. I rarely have trouble carrying on conversations with people, probably because I am pretty good at finding something to blab on about (shocking, I know), but this conversation always stumps me. You look beautiful/handsome? I love your dress/tux? Your earrings sparkle? Where do you get them? I like that glitter on your eye lids? What a great night? I loved the cheese? What a beautiful ceremony? Good idea to get married? Why'd you choose him? Nothing ever feels right for me. I just feel awkward and anxious and desperate for a drink and my favorite wedding dance song (Pour Some Sugar on Me, obviously).  

Now for the cancer connection. Sometimes I feel that as a cancer patient, I may give people the anxiety that table-visiting brides and grooms give me. What should I say to her? Tell her that she "looks great" so that I can buy a few seconds to subtly examine her bald head up close? How sick is she? She doesn't really look that sick. If I give her a hug, do I still need to be careful of her fake boobs? Does she even have time to talk to me? But I don't have anything useful to say to her. And she writes that blog so whatever I say could end up in there. But then if I don't say something it could end up in there, too. She should cool it with that blog, it's starting to stress me out. OK, so I may be joking a little bit, but not completely. 

I really do understand that talking to a cancer patient may seem like a stressful thing. So here's one thing I've learned that I vow to follow at the next wedding when I face the only few un-fun minutes of the night -- I'm just going to say what I feel (with the edit button definitely switched On). If the cheese was really good, I'll tell them. If the bride looks beautiful, I'll tell her, but not because I feel like that's what I'm supposed to say. I'll just let myself actually think what I'm thinking at that moment and I'll stop letting my mind run amuck into what would be the best (or worst) thing to say. I'll just let that moment be what it is -- big or small -- and stop worrying about what it should be. 

That's one thing I've learned from cancer -- people shouldn't be afraid that they're going to "say the wrong thing." For me, not saying anything is worse. For me, the only thing someone could say "wrong" is something that suggests that I'm going to die from cancer. Admittedly, that has happened (several times) but I don't hold it against anyone -- I just laugh about it because, well, it really is kind of funny (what they said -- not the dying part). So aside from comments suggesting my demise, anything that people say to show their love and support is greatly appreciated. 

People also shouldn't ever think that a patient is "too busy" for a phone call, email, or text message. If I'm busy, I just don't answer right away. No one inconvenienced me by trying, and that little "Missed Call" message says a lot.

(Please note that this is not a plea for phone calls and text messages! My friends and family showered me with those (and continue to do so) and I am just recounting their importance for others that may be going through the same thing.) 

2.  We can beat cancer. 

3.  Be very careful when comparing cancer stories.  

4.  It's awkward when people initially ignore the fact that I have cancer. It's best when they acknowledge it, but don't dwell on it.

5.  Thank you notes are really hard to write to the people that deserve them most.  

6.  People cope with pain, fear, and stress in all different ways. 

7.  Saying, "Let me know if you need anything," is helpful. Doing something helpful is really helpful. 

8.  Sometimes the most difficult times are the times others think are the easiest. 

9.  People with cancer are just people. with cancer. 

10.  The human spirit is a truly, truly remarkable thing. 


  1. Please trademark #9 if it isn't already!

  2. As always, well said. Ironically enough, a lot of this is what I was going to write about tonight! :)

  3. So true...I was diagnosed in December just before I turned 30 :(