Recently I was speaking with someone who had a relative who passed while dealing with cancer. The person had said the relative had said she wanted to see her and other family, but pretty much left it at that. What the person did not realize was that the relative was in hospice, and that time might be shorter than was otherwise known.
As the person relayed to me these facts, I tried to figure out how I might approach giving some perspective from the cancer side of the fence. The last thing I wanted to do was to say something that might seem insensitive or thoughtless. Thankfully it seemed that what I managed to do was received in an "Ok" manner.
What I attempted to express was the difficulty of standing where I stand. People who know me know I am dealing with cancer. But even though they know that, they often speak with a different language metaphorically. They speak about the future as though it exists with certainty. They put things off because they think they know they can. They talk to me, or they don't, and then when months go by, they are astounded by the time that has passed, perhaps again making a comment about getting together, only to have more time elapse.
In cancer terms months can equate to another's years. I hate to say it, but often when people say things about the future, there is a part of me that twinges. I am not sure if it's because I don't think I'll be here, or if it is "just" that I am acutely aware that the future may not come as we would like it to be - or at all. I'd like to think it is more the latter than the former, but it is likely more of a mix.
The person had wished the relative had been more forthcoming with the urgency of a visit. How does one say that, really? Recently I told someone that if he wanted to see me, he should see me now. He told me not to speak that way. My point was that he often delayed things. He even told me about how he had wanted to be in contact with a friend who had been dealing with cancer, but before he made contact, the friend had died. My point was, if he wanted to do something, do it now.
There is no way I can really convey any sort of urgency to anyone about my situation, short of saying I am dying. The fact is - we are all dying. But you don't walk around telling anyone, do you? So why should I? I do not know what the future holds, and neither do you. Accidents and heart attacks and other things happen all the time that cut the time some have way short. The illness cancer isn't the only thing that ends life.
Another thing is that I am acutely aware of people's discomfort. There have been several people I have reached out to more than once since being diagnosed - only to find silence. How am I supposed to interpret that? The most logical would be to believe that cancer has had a lot to do with it. How far am I supposed to go? How many attempts do I make? After a while, it makes no sense to even try when resources like energy are at a premium.
Does it mean the people don't want to talk to me? There is no way to really know. But I share this with you as a way to tell you that if there is someone you care about who is dealing with cancer, consider that it may not be in your mutual best interest to leave it up to him/her to contact you. Initiate the contact.
If they don't respond, don't take it personally. How they feel could be the reason. With chemo in the brain, it may have slipped their mind. Chemo has me forgetting things all the time. It is annoying as hell. They have a full-time job of having to deal with cancer that often goes into lots of overtime.
I can't speak for everyone who is dealing with cancer. However, I suspect there are a few people who would tell you similar things if they were able and willing.
Dealing with cancer is awkward on so many levels. You may not know what to say to a person who is dealing with it. I spoke with someone once who had a cousin who was dying of cancer. He didn't want to go see him. He was terrified. What would he say?
I suggested that among other things, he tell him how much he cared about him, and how much it sucked that he was facing what he was facing. And then to talk to him as he always did - to treat him normally, that he would likely appreciate it.
After the visit he was grateful to me. He said it was a great visit, and that he was glad he went and got to say good-bye.
What I share with you can easily apply long before you know the person you care about is dying. It is a blueprint that can work any time. It can also likely work in a myriad of awkward and uncomfortable situations you think you don't know what to say.
Many times one of the problems is that people think they need to fix something that really isn't fixable. I am fairly certain most people in the time of crisis and illness don't expect you to have "the" answer no one else does. They probably wish you did, but odds are great they know better. They probably just want you to be yourself, and want you to allow them to be themselves.
It is hard to say if this is universally helpful advice. However, if you find yourself uncertain about what to do, and especially if you are stymied, consider trying out what I have said. You might just be pleasantly surprised, and you might just give a gift to the person you care about. Dealing with cancer can be incredibly isolating. If you have the love, courage and willingness to be in a person's life who is dealing with it, it might just be an incredible gift for both of you.
I know it's scary for you. How do you think it must be for the person dealing with it? If you love someone, consider loving them up close and personal with your actions, rather than from afar. I think there is also a good chance you you might also feel a bit less helpless and will have less regret if you consider what I have said, and more importantly - act on it.