I was out to lunch with a dear friend last week and we talked more about talking about cancer with people. L. wisely asked me how I wanted people to talk to me about my illness. Despite all my practice, I drew a blank. Since then, I’ve been struggling to come up with an answer.
I understand the news that I have cancer might be a shock to you and your gut reaction is hard to control. If you get upset, I won’t feel worse; rather, I can see you care. Beyond that I appreciate just being able to talk about what it’s like to live with this illness. If you’re able, try not to change the subject, okay?
By asking me about my cancer, you can help me feel you’re trying to understand. In this context, there are no bad questions and nothing is off limits. I’m not afraid to talk, and I actually feel better if I do, even when things aren’t going so well.
You can show me you’re not afraid by asking about my leukemia. Because, even though I might not like it, leukemia is part my life. It’s on my mind when I first wake up in the morning and as I go through my day and even as I fall asleep (or worse, can’t sleep). I try not to let the illness drag me down and I’m not wasting time thinking about dying; rather, I’m focussing on how to live well with the beast.
I realize not everyone feels the way I do. Some people don’t want to think or talk about their cancer, or other ailment, or any touchy subject for that matter. I can respect that; it just wouldn’t work for me. I want support for my situation, and people can’t give support if I don’t let them in.
If you can’t ask, know that that’s okay. I know it’s hard for some people to broach cancer and other hard topics. But the psychologist in me can’t help but encourage you to work on this because chances are you’ll have to have such conversations with someone close to you down the road, and practice now might make that eventuality easier.
At one point I paid someone to listen to me, and she was fantastic at it, so I’m glad I did. But now I’m trying to rely on the people close to me to lend me that ear. Don’t worry, I don’t expect my friends to replace my therapist–although I’ll admit it’s handy that so many of you share my profession–but I am ever grateful when anyone asks how I am and is able to tolerate the answer.
And rest assured, cancer is not all I want to talk about. That would bore both of us to death, wouldn’t it? I still want to know how you are among other things. But I’ll still contribute little to discussions on world politics or history; those disinterests long predated my leukemia.