I want to apologise in advance for the following blog. I have been blessed by the support of literally hundreds of people. This has made the power of difference to me and my family. For that we are all eternally grateful. Furthermore I appreciate cancer is a bit like Voldermort. It’s an evil darkness which shall not be named. The impact, like dementors, have the ability to suck the happiness out of everyday life. Understandably people don’t know what to say or what to do at times. It’s an awkward subject which is why I feel the need to share a few tips on what I have found to be good etiquette when talking to someone with cancer. Apologies in advance if you read this and think ‘I did that…’ I know your intentions come from a good place but here are my top 7 tips:
1. What not to say #1 STOP EATING SUGAR, MILK, MEAT
Don’t tell me I am poisoning my body by eating the above. Don’t tell me I am feeding my cancer by eating the above. Please don’t tell me what to eat and what not to eat. I get hangry at the best of times (hunger = angry) Combine that with nausea which stops me eating at all and then I get rage! I don’t have cancer because I have a bad diet. In fact I have a very well balanced diet. I don’t care if you read an article about how fruit saved someone’s life or how a water only diet cured cancer. Unless you’re someone I’ve made an appointment with who is advising me on how to combat the side affects of chronic diarrhoea then I don’t want to know.
2. What not to say #2 WHAT IS THE NAME OF YOUR CANCER?
This tends to be followed up with a ‘I want to google it’ or ‘my friend’s uncle’s daughter is a doctor….’ Why do you need to know that much detail? More importantly think about the timing of that question! I have good days and bad days. The trigger for a bad day can be anything from abdominal pain to a visual reminder of the challenge I’m facing. Please text me – ask me how I am, ask me for coffee but please don’t just text me asking intricate details of my cancer. It has the ability to turn a great day into a mediocre day!
3. What not to say #3 I HAVE DONE LOADS OF READING ON THIS, WHAT STAGE IS YOUR CANCER AT?
This is somewhat similar to the points above. Unless you are my oncologist, gynecologist, radiologist or specialist nurse then you’re research means diddly squat to me! Yes, at times I want to talk about my cancer but it won’t be because I want a second opinion from you. Leave it to the professionals!
4. THE HEAD TILT
This is a subconscious thing. People no longer ask me how I am without craning their neck to the side and adopting big puppy dog eyes. I am fine and what’s more I am still Heather. You don’t need to have sympathy for me. I am still enjoying my life so crack a smile and ask me if I’ve heard your latest gossip!
5. JUST BE YOU!
For the majority I feel fine. I have an ongoing battle in bowels, I’m constantly tired and my weekly schedule revolves around hospital visits but I am still me. I am living for the weekends now and the best medicine for me is normality. Providing I feel up to it there is no reason I can’t have the odd game of hockey, go for a sober dance or join in whatever other fun activity the Summer months bring. Please don’t feel like you’ll offend me for treating me like normal. Similarly, just because I have cancer doesn’t mean your problems don’t exist or matter. You can still talk to me about them!
6. COP A FEEL, GET A SMEAR, USE THAT BOWEL SCREENING KIT & IF YOU HAVE ANY REASON FOR SUSPICION GO TO YOUR GP
This is THE most important lesson I want to share with the world. I suffered symptoms for 3 months before being diagnosed despite several visits to my GP. A very clever doctor told me upon diagnosis that cancer is one of life’s lotteries; some people get cancer, some people get hit by a bus, some people get on a plane to Malaysia never to return. There is no rhyme or reason for it so to whoever is reading this do yourself the favour of taking care of your body – it’s the only one you will ever have! They say the best protection is early detection so lads – grab your gonads! Ladies – feel your melons, lemons or prunes and get a smear! I never saw this coming and if nothing else I hope this message helps prevent you from ever sharing my experience.
7. THINGS I HAVE FOUND SUPER USEFUL
Aside from my army of supporters there are a few things I have discovered to be super useful…
To help me through my bad days I created a #FUCancer scrapbook. This has pages illustrated and dedicated to my life goals, messages and photos from friends & family and a collection of inspiring quotes. It is a great point of reference for me and gives me strength on the days when I need it most. Thank you to everyone who has contributed!
Timetable and lists! Being a self confessed control freak this one might just be for me but I have put my love of excel into good use by creating an online doc and whiteboard so loved ones can be kept upto date with changes to treatment. It also serves a great place to tick of those days as they come and go – very satisfying!
When friends and family pose the question ‘What can I do…’ Or ‘what would you like to do…’ It is a great opener. I love an open ended question!
My nephews, brother and sister in law prepared a box of treats including ginger tea for nausea, loose tops for chemo and cream to combat the sunburn from radiotherapy. It was prepared with a great deal of thought and is continually being referred to now. My heavily pregnant friend Jen (how did you find the time?) prepared a similar care package filled with the perfect ingredients for relaxation as well as my personal #FUCancer mascot!
The motivational text! I am not a hero, I am not brave and I am certainly not inspiring but it is nice to get the unexpected text being told how loved you are. Again, these are something I’ve saved for the tough days when my meds keep me up all night. It’s a reminder I’m not alone. So thank you to the motivational texters!
So there you have it…
My personal buzzfeed on cancer etiquette. I want to stress that I do appreciate all the messages and thoughtful words. I have been overwhelmed by the response and support I have received over the past 7 weeks. The purpose of this blog is not to offend anyone – I just want to share my story my way. Everyone’s story of cancer is unique and personal. But just like Harry Potter I will be triumphant against it-which-shall-not-be-named!