The WHAT'S NEW! page contains the latest medical updates. If you're wondering how I'm going as far as health is concerned, this is the place to start. Latest: Wed 27 Nov 2013. 7.20AM

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How do you respond when they tell you?

I’ve come across an article that’s worth reading. Anything that sets me thinking I appreciate. I don’t agree with it completely because it’s too general, but then the question is generic and there’s only so much you can say in a short article.

   It’s obvious what it’s about from the URL. I’d be interested in what you thought of what it says. But to cut through the swathe of possible comments a bit (or perhaps muddy the waters a bit more!), these are a few considerations that sprang immediately to my mind.

   It depends on many things, e.g.,
  • how and when the news gets to them – face-to-face, chance meeting, phone, email?
  • the relationship between the two – acquaintance, friend, relative.... 
  • whether the person hearing the news has been or is a cancer patient and the treatment they’ve had if so, or someone who’s cared/caring for a cancer patient
  • the personality of the person with the cancer and that of the person who has just been told
  • the knowledge of cancer generally of the person who’s just been told by the cancer patient AND/or carer/SO, and the specific form of cancer it is

   There’s also the question that’s the mirror image of the one above – how does the person who’s received the news that they have cancer tell those who need to know it?

   Many if not all of the dot points above apply in this case also.

   Your thoughts? I know there are many who’ll read this who are very experienced with cancer in one way or another. We’ve had some rather odd reactions when we had to tell people.


  1. *sigh* Perhaps I did not deal with my grandfather's cancer very well. I tried to be supportive and encouraging. I offered help, resources and tried my best though. I probably said things like 'You can beat this' or 'I can only imagine how you are feeling', which I obviously couldn't.

    I don't think there is a "correct" way of dealing with it, it is traumatic for everyone involved and people can only do their best.

  2. The people I feel most comfortable with are often the ones who say to me "I don't know what to say". Surprised?

    I tell them that it is OK. That this didn't come with a manual, that we are still Denis and Tracey and that we still talk about all the same old stuff we used to talk about. Then we can move on.

    I feel least comfort from the people who define Denis by his illness. Who spend every minute they are here talking about it.

    Worse when they feel that they know how we should be dealing with this cancer, or with Denis or with me as the carer, because they have a friend who is an expert in something or other who told them 'this' or 'that'.

    No, we are not going to risk the positive effects of the Avastin by experimenting with a strict diet of Bovine cartilage.

    I know these people mean well but it is not helpful.

    No, if you have not personally walked in my very own size 8 shoes then you have no idea how I feel. I don't care who you are where you studied. Keep it real. I'd much rather that you did.

    It is sort of like being pregnant. Everyone has a story about child-birth regardless of whether they have actually ever been pregnant or a parent. Everyone is a self-appointed expert on some aspect of pregnancy, morning sickness, stretch marks, croup, breast feeding, parenting.....

    The behaviour of this tumour is unique to Denis. Just like every other cancer patient. It is not the same as the tumour your Mum had, or your Aunty, or Bob down the road who beat it with the latest diet book.

    I go out once a fortnight to buy groceries. I dread the countless people who put on the long face and assume that in my one hour of being out that I want to spend that time talking about it all some more. Then there are the ones who go on to tell me all about the health problems of someone they know. It is not that I don't care about other people. Mostly I do. But why do people do this? I don't want to be constantly put in a position of sympathising with the health problems of a third person, someone often not even known to me, someone most definitely not terminal. Then I find myself making light of Den's condition because it is all so much for them to bear; so that they don't feel worse than they already do.

    I have found it best to shop very late at night.

    The people who bring dinners, drink all our red wine and talk about uni shenanigans or nerdy stuff, who bring silly or fun or interesting conversation, as if we are still the people we were 14 months ago....they are a breath of fresh air. I love those visits.

    There have been rare moments when a friend has suddenly started to cry in mid-conversation and we have comforted them. That is hard but strangely appreciated. It is raw and true. I can't stand fake. Especially now.

  3. PS: I have stocked up - two doz bottles of red. You know who you are :-)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Second attempt:)

    This morning I've been reading an article about Christopher Hitchens (see the tag line below! or whatever you call it). He says "I get a number of letters and emails and they quite often say things like, 'If anyone can beat this, it's you'...Jaunty, upbeat stuff like that. And sometimes that makes me feel a bit alarmed, to be the repository of other people's hope."

    As for 'it'll be fine', sometimes that seems to me as a way for the speaker to avoid the reality, but other times if the person has some cancer that has a high rate of cure but they are really distressed ,then it is probably trying to help with perspective and to decrease the alarm.

    Yet a diagnosis of any cancer is often the first intimation of death, that will come to us all but seems so faraway, till then. We realise our mortality and it is a shock, a devastating shock. It's so important, in my opinion, to come to terms with that in one's own way,as a deeply personal and internal experience. Other people, sometimes those close and sometimes almost strangers, can be of comfort and sort of guidance, depending on their understanding and depending on the moment.

    But 'it'll be fine' reminds me of the really irritating (to me!!) phrase, so often seen on tv or films, where some really tragic event has occurred and the comforting person pats the weeping person's shoulder and says 'it's OK'. It's NOT OK!!! Well, maybe only in the very long term philosophical view of life the universe and everything, which is not what they mean.. (if only).


  7. Well, I'd posted another carefully thought out comment, but it disappeared, so I'm giving up on blog comments -really!

  8. Julie: you MUST write your comment in a save-able document first, and then cut and paste it into the box. It seems to be a problem with this program. I have fiddled with settings but it still glitches occasionally even on me.
    At the very least highlight what you have written before trying to submit the comment, COPY the text into memory, and then at least you have it there to PASTE into another document. Anonymous seems always to work - you can still identify yourself! This is terribly frustrating, but it can be got around.

  9. Julie - that's a very good article. One thing Hitchens said elsewhere that amused me a little was that he felt that there was a sort of hierarchy of cancers, and that he felt he had a sort of superior form. I was amused because deep down, I felt that my form was in some ways of a superior order to some others - though I have to confess that I can't see what he felt was 'superior' about his form, which seems really ghastly to me. I guess it's a 'visibility' or 'containment' thing to me.... but if you don't know what I mean, then I don't really want to go into that.

  10. I will copy it -I did with the first one -but the other one I saw go up, then it went . GRRR. Doesn't matter :)

    Hierarchy -perhaps because he has stage 4. Which you know about. Yes I think I understand your meaning.

    And see, here I am again, so untrustworthy in what a I say!! (a 'fly off the handle' sort of person :))

  11. Interesting -it just happened gain. I'll try anonymous

  12. Well,you're gonna laugh at this. I wrote a shortish response about what I would say, straight into the box. It got a bit longer, so I saved it into memory, and then my whole computer did one of its rare lockups and the only thing that would move was the cursor. So I lost the lot anyway!!! It's not do as I do, it's do as I say, it seems. Going to bed. I've been awake since 4 am. And there's a dog barking on each side of us....

  13. Denis, you once said to me that you, on one level, felt that there was some kind of strange beauty about your tumour. You said this in the context of your dream about the cougar and the panda. Perhaps this is what Hitchens meant about the superiority of his tumour. In the tumour's own terms, it is the most powerful, most effective (in its sinister objective), and most resistant to treatment -- stronger than the forces which oppose it, continually evading capture and containment, like the cougar.

    I'm only speculating here, as I didn't read what Hitchens said about his tumour's superiority, but given that Hitchens' own ego is pretty superior, in that it is powerful, effective, stronger than most, and tries hard to be superior to the forces which oppose it, perhaps he was claiming some kind of ego value for his tumour. It does not surprise me, given his popular persona, that well-wishers would think he could beat the cancer. He has created an air of invinciblity about himself.

    I jest,of course, about the ego stuff. I do give him more credit than that, although I cannot understand why he would support the attack on Iraq as a legitimate response to 9/11. I've come to think of him as a kind of band wagon figure, who gets onto the most controversial topics and onto the most controversial side, given his past. Even so, he will leave a hole in the debate about these issues: Iraq, 9/ll, the left, atheism, the Pope, etc., when the tumour gets the better of him.

    I learned from experience, to always select all and copy my postings before sending them. I've lost too many profundities :).

  14. I do remember saying something like that, Joan, I think in the sense of that metaphor in the dream, but that dream seems very far away now. You are certainly right about Hitchens’ ego. As I said, I have often been at odds with him in his political writings, especially in regard to the mid-East, which is exactly why we used to set his articles as readings for our students studying the Islam in the Modern World unit. He’s rather like the other end of the spectrum to John Pilger – or maybe Michael Moore is a more radical and less disciplined example than the other two.

    But I do see exactly where he is coming from when he talks about dealing with his cancer. I think the idea of invincibility does spring from popular visions of his strength of personality and pomposity, but I am sure that he is under no illusions about what he is facing, as you say.

    Hitchens has used his cancer as a vehicle, just as he does controversy. I would hope at least that he can demystify the disease by talking openly about it, because one thing no-one could ever accuse him of is lack of courage.


Some iPads simply refuse to post responses. I have no idea why, but be aware of this.
Word verification has been enabled because of an avalanche of spam. SAVE or compose a long comment elsewhere before posting; don’t lose it! View in Preview mode first before trying to post.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.