I was kind of private during my initial diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy. I was very quiet during chemotherapy because I was a) working full time and b) ashamed.
Yes, ashamed. I was ashamed of how my body was failing me, how my brain was not working the way I thought it should and of course, the baldness. I had always had a love/hate relationship with my hair but losing it was something that just hit me right in the feels. In order to leave the house, I needed to strap on a boob AND put on some hair. It was really hard to recognize how much upkeep my new me needed and working during chemo kept me sane but laid up in bed any time I was not at work.
My close friends and family knew, of course, as did my coworkers. And like anything else, news traveled fast so that most of the parents at my kids' school knew, too. But I was not ready to speak about it or share about it.
That did not stop people from speaking to me though. One of the worst encounters was in the middle of my chemo when I was at one of my kid's sporting events and someone came up to me and said, "I am sorry I did not know you had cancer but I noticed you were wearing a wig and someone told me."
Rule number 1 is NEVER EVER tell a woman you know she is wearing a wig. Tell me I am ugly and or tell me I got fat but do not point out I am wearing a wig!
Here are some more rules, from my heart to yours:
2) Do not tell the cancer patient they are in the "fight for their life" - unless of course you were with them at the doctors when they were given the news that they might die. Most of us who are diagnosed with cancer survive it by thinking about how we are NOT going to die from it and you telling us we are "fighting for our life" makes us remember that we could potentially die but hey, you could, too, if I push you into traffic for telling me about how I am fighting for my life.
3) If said cancer patient has children, do not ruminate on how hard it must be for said children. We get it - we see our kids scared because we are bald and so tired we cannot get out of bed - we do not need you to point out how hard it is for our children to watch whether our children are 6 or 60. Cancer sucks - instead of talking about how hard it is for our children, offer to come and take our kids out for the day and/or to bring them some toys - all kids love toys, any kinds of toys and it is something constructive you can do to help our kids from thinking about how hard they have it. Because kids are not stupid but they do not think in terms of risk and statistics - all they know is mommy is sick and not herself and the word "cancer" evokes death in their minds. So help them not think about it instead of reminding the patient of how much the kids are suffering.
4) If you are told by the person with cancer that they are battling the disease, try to just treat said person like you always did. Do not recoil as if it is contagious, try to mask the fact that your first thought might very well be, "Thank God it is not me." I mean, I get it because I am sure that would be my first thought too but I am the first person I know who has breast cancer so I really am not sure what my reaction would have been if a close friend or an acquaintance shared with me their diagnosis but I imagine it would have been, "Thank God it is not me." But I am hopeful I would have hid it better...
5) Part 2 of number 4 is please do not take this time to lament the fact that you have not had your mammography in years and that you hope you do not have breast cancer, too because you would never want to lose your breasts. I mean, I get it, I was not really gung-ho about losing my breast either but that bitch was trying to kill me so I got used to it real quick.
6) Do not fall apart - it is okay if you are upset by your friend/cousin/colleague's diagnosis but please do not call her crying every day and getting hysterical saying you wish it was you because that is just too much emotion for someone who is not facing cancer. I get it, you love me - I am glad now just come over and clean my house for me instead of crying on the phone to me about how you wish it was you. Cleaning while undergoing cancer treatment should be illegal.
That is all I have for now in this time between - what are your pet peeves or rules about how people reacted to your diagnosis?
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