when everything isn’t awesome

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a card from a friend from the brilliant Emily McDowell*

I fret about sharing don’t lists because I fear I will scare people away.  But people have already been scared away by me. I’ve watched them running away as fast as they can, their images fading in the distance.  (Note: breast cancer is not contagious).  This happened after Aaron was diagnosed and it made me sad then and it makes me sad now, too.  I’m not going to point out the stupid things people have said to me.  I know people are uncomfortable with illness and death, but generally it is best not to: ignore, shame, make it about you, compare, minimize, judge, give vague suggestions of support or imply why I got cancer and what I can do to cure myself.

Here are some essays that explain this far better than I can:

What to say to someone with cancer – from Lisa Bonchek Adams, who continues to make a difference in the world
She wrote this too: The stupid things people say to those with cancer and their families
Don’t tell cancer patients what they could be doing to cure themselves – from the Guardian
I have cancer.  This is how much pressure I felt to be a hero – Adam Bessie’s brilliant visual essay.

To temper all that, here is a classic Heather Plett essay about Holding Space that I often share with health professionals in my work in children’s hospitals.  It holds true for what I need as a person with cancer, too.  It is challenging to walk beside someone in their pain.

Many people in my life are either health professionals or moms who have children with disabilities.  They have also experienced a lot in their own lives, and I think that helps with their heightened level of compassion. I am grateful for their natural ease with me.

Here are some things that have helped me a lot:  random messages to see how I’m doing, thoughtful blog comments, handwritten cards, handmade journals & meditation cards, little gifts of things I love, like sweets & socks & books & flowers, checking in with my husband and my grown-up children, real offers to take Aaron out to have fun or to pick him up from school, rides to appointments, food for my family and stolen coffee & sushi dates.  I especially appreciate folks who have continue to check in with me, long past the initial flurry of activity that happens right after diagnosis.

One friend in Edmonton got up at 5 am to drive my daughter to the airport when Ella came to care for me after I had surgery.  I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. Another friend made me a beautiful quilt of images in Paris, which I adore – just thinking that she took the time to create that for me brings grateful tears to my eyes.  I have another quilt sent by a kind soul who I know only through Twitter.  Finding a little handwritten card in my mailbox can brighten my whole day.

I have felt both loved and unloved the past three months, but I’m choosing to remember the love, which has poured in from all over Canada.  This barrage of love is what keeps me going.  Thank you my friends – I trust you will see yourself reflected in my words.

*I think Emily McDowell  knows what I’m talking about.

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