I am a woman. I am a woman on hormone therapy. I am a woman on hormone therapy for cancer. I am a woman, on hormone therapy for terminal cancer. Everyone should just be grateful that I’m now in a chemically-induced menopause, so they don’t have to add PMT to that list. Now pause, let that sink in, and go and find my family, friends and colleagues, shake them by the hand and feel their pain. I must be a bloody nightmare to live with.
The focus of everyone’s attention is me, of course. That’s all very gratifying, but it can turn you into a little tyrant if you let it. It could be easy to be seduced by the mantra that life is carrying on as normal, while secretly you’re relishing the fact that of course no-one’s going to say no to you. Andrew and I have had to work hard on this bit of our relationship, because frankly I’ve been tearing his head off, and there’s been a bit of an argument before we stop in horror and think ‘hang on, cancer, dying, it isn’t meant to be like this, surely? Are rows allowed?’
Yes. Yes, they are. Mainly because it IS normal. And because neither of us is psychic. That in turn encourages us to talk through what we’re feeling and why we’re reacting the way we are. All healthy, no? I don’t want to look into anyone’s eyes and see pity before I go. Certainly not from the man I love.
An example. I love to joke. I can take the mickey out of myself till the cows come home. My family nickname is ‘The Cancer-Riddled Old Hag’. Until I have a wobbly moment, silently in my head while no-one else notices, and I turn into a frightened little girl who’s changed her mind about having terminal cancer now, and would like someone to make it stop. And understand that this can happen within seconds of cracking a joke. Andrew follows my lead in the joshing, and is stunned to find me snarling or weeping at him. (He must surely be combing the marriage certificate for a get-out clause by now.) People often talk of the rollercoaster ride of cancer. It’s stomach-churningly bad enough for the principal rider. Spare a thought for those clinging on behind for dear life.
So trying to give support to someone who’s on that rollercoaster is always going to be tricky. I’d meant this blog to be a lighthearted look at how NOT to cock that up. And then it occurred to me that whatever you do, you’re pretty much screwed. I appreciate help from any quarter, and most people mean well and are kindhearted.
Some, though, really do need to engage brain before opening mouth. These are all things that have genuinely been said or done to me:
1 All you need is to keep positive. It can work miracles.
(All? So if I die, I’m not being positive enough? Linda McCartney died because she just couldn’t channel those positive thoughts, and not because her husband, one of the richest men on earth, couldn’t have bought her any cancer treatment she needed?)
2 My aunt had breast cancer. She died in agony. Nothing would touch her pain.
(Yes. Not as much pain as I’d like to inflict on you right now for leaving me with that thought. Thanks.)
3 I’ll pop over and see you in hospital on Sunday around suppertime, as we’re busy gardening on Saturday.
(Please do come and watch me eat. Sunday’s not good for me actually, but don’t let that stop you. I’d hate to interrupt your gardening. And please remember to stay for a good couple of hours until you can see I’m really exhausted.)
4 Breast cancer? Oooh the Daily Mail says that’s caused by / cured by……
(Stop. You lost me at Daily Mail.)
5 Cancer? Are you sure? You’re a big lass.
(Not all cancer patients are skeletal. And while we’re at it, making reference to how the disease has knackered your hair / skin / features isn’t going to foster that positive thinking, now is it?)
(You get a lot of this, actually. People you thought were friends disappear. People you didn’t think were strong turn out to be there for you. Your illness has set up a lot of complicated feelings in other folk, from reawakening old losses to fear of mortality. It’s their loss. Let them deal with it.)
7 Are the sunsets more beautiful now?
(I see the same bloody sunsets as everyone else. Having a terminal illness does not give me a mysterious insight into the universe.)
8 And my personal favourite:
Yes of course I’ll take a message to the Next Life For You.