“How did the transfusion go, Ed? Are you feeling any better?”
How the hell should I know?
I’ve been in bed with the flu all week. Yes – sore throat, no voice, chain sneezing, no energy, coughing throughout the night – you know the drill.
The photo below (taken today) is a good reflection of my attitude right now.
A week of feeling good, because someone loved me enough to give me their blood, has been taken from me by an invasion of the flu.
I’m now told that high testosterone levels wipe out your immune system. As my oncologist is fond of saying, “There are no free rides.”
Since I am so gnarly and gristy of heart and body, let’s make the most of my angst, shall we? We’ll do this by playing a game I’m calling, “What I’m really thinking.”
Haven’t you always wondered what is lurking in the hearts of your friends when you’re talking to them? This is your chance to find out!
If you used to (or still do) read MAD Magazine, my game is similar to the cartoon found in each magazine titled, “The Shadow Knows.”
Since I have terminal cancer (or so I’m told), I’m going to focus my attention on kind, well-meaning things people have said to me about my condition over the years.
My intent is NOT to silence or shame you, but rather help you be a better friend to others you may know who are in a similar situation.
That said, my thoughts are only my thoughts. Others, facing terminal diseases, may respond differently.
God, I hope so.
So let’s start with a prayer: “Dear God, please don’t let everyone be as twisted and cynical as I am. Amen.”
Now, on to the game!
Upon hearing that I have terminal cancer, you say to me: “Well, you know, we’re all dying.”
I’m thinking: “Really? How long have they given you before you’re gone?”
Yes, I understand that being born into this world guarantees all of our deaths, but please don’t minimize the timing and uniqueness of mine by saying something like this.
And stop speaking in conclusions! Start a conversation with me; don’t stop it with a pronouncement right out of the gate.
Instead, ask questions. Show curiosity. Say something like, “I heard you received some terrible news this week. Would you like to talk about it?”
Upon hearing that I have terminal cancer, you say to me: “You know, I could die before you do.”
I’m thinking: “So now I’m dealing with both your death and mine? I’m supposed to find this comforting?”
Yes, you could die before me, and I have had some friends who have had the gall to do just this. Trust me, I will deal with them later.
But do not think for an instant that the idea or reality of you doing this is of any comfort to me, whatsoever.
Upon hearing that I have terminal cancer, you say to me: “You’re going to live to be 100!”
I’m thinking: “Thank you. I’m stunned. I’ll inform my medical team first thing tomorrow. And you did your training where? They’re going to want to know.”
I know my news makes you uncomfortable. If you are feeling 1% of what I’m experiencing, you probably want to go throw up. But a statement like this screams, “Denial.”
Your denial will make you unable to truly comfort me. Better to find your courage and interact with me in the context of whatever the frightening reality is I’m facing.
That said, if you had told me 3 years ago, “You’re going to live to be at least 58,” I would have laughed at you – so would my doctors.
We just never know, do we?
Upon hearing that I have terminal cancer, you say to me: “God has a plan. We just have to trust Him.”
I’m thinking: “You’d better have terminal cancer also if you’re going to use the word ‘we.’ And to be honest, God and His ‘plan’ are really of no comfort to me right now.”
Yes, that is what I was thinking early on after my diagnosis (I hate that word, “diagnosis,” by the way).
I also hate religious platitudes, no matter how true they are. This is probably because I uttered them so often in my previous life. They seemed to wound people more than comfort them.
“You should be more spiritual,” is the message the person in a fight for their life hears, I think.
Why? Platitudes don’t respect time. Getting to a better place (at least for me) is a long process. I’m always asking, “Are we there yet?” God laughs from the front seat and hands me another Diet Coke.
Almost three years after my diagnosis (there’s that damn word again that makes me so different from you), God and His plan for me is now my deepest hope (most days). This took time – and lots of anger and tears.
Respect my journey. Ask me where I am with God these days. Express your doubts. Invite me to express mine. Let’s have a hard talk.
I am starved for an honest conversation that accepts me where I am, no matter how scary and messy that might be to you (and me).
Upon hearing that I have terminal cancer, you say to me: “It is what it is.”
I’m thinking: “Really? I had no idea. Thank you for your amazing insight and for inviting me into the emotional deadness of stoicism.”
This is way better:
Yeah, if you’re going to offer up this non-comforting platitude, you had better have a beer ready to hand me when you do so.
Imported, please. I don’t like domestic, unless it’s from a microbrewery.
Well, now that I’ve pissed you all off with my rant, I feel much better.
Thank you for indulging me.
Next week, let’s talk about what you can say (and do) that would both comfort and strengthen the hearts of those confronted with a terminal illness.
If I have simply shamed you into silence, here is the one thing I have heard that has meant a great deal to me:
See, it isn’t that hard.
Say this, and then hug me.
Don’t ever let go.
P.S. The new Q&A section of my blog is half finished. This means I have your questions posted, but no answers. Okay, one answer is up. If the flu departs this week, I will have it finished. More questions are always welcome, of course.
© Ed Hague. All rights reserved.