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My Friend Has Cancer – and I feel stupid.

When the word “cancer” enters the conversation, I tense up. However, it seems that more and more survivors are telling their stories and that certain cancers are even gaining an interesting ‘branding’ identity to help raise awareness and fund research. We see ‘cancer’ all of the time in ribbons, wrist bands, t-shirts, bumper stickers & even on NFL players. Yes, it’s around, but it wasn’t in MY life. So when my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer a short while ago, it was hard to know how to ‘love her through’ her treatment and her new ‘normal’.

I was emotionally stunted on what to say or do. So I asked her what she wished people knew about being a (breast) cancer patient, and here are her candid answers:

1. As a breast cancer patient, what do you wish the rest of us knew?

If I have to have cancer, then thank God I got breast cancer…it has all the money and research behind it. It has races and walks. It has its own month (October) and EVERYONE knows that light pink is the breast cancer color. If I had pancreatic cancer, I would be a hot mess (not that I am not sometimes, but I think I would be in a constant state of hot mess-ness with another cancer) because they probably would not have caught it in time and they don’t know nearly as much about it as they do breast cancer

2. Do you like that there is so much attention?

I hate breast cancer awareness month…but maybe the timing is just bad. If, for 2 minutes, I could blissfully forget that I have breast cancer, invariably something will bring it to my attention again.

3. What’s the best way to let you know I am thinking about you and ‘love on’ you?

While I know that people mean well and have no idea what to say, and I am so grateful to be loved as much as I am, I have found that there are days when I just cannot take the “Please let me know if there is anything I can do” comment (I may just start thinking big!) or the slight head tilt and “how are you?” question. That sounds terribly petty, I know, but when you have heard it 20 times in one day it almost becomes too much. I am so grateful for friends who have just started doing without asking…making an appt for a makeover, bringing over an extra casserole, offering a specific thing. And instead of asking, maybe just say, “You look great,” or “You look like you are having a hard day. Do you feel like talking about it?” Anything but, “How are you,” please.

4. Given a magic wand, what would you change about your medical treatment?

Please know that I am thankful every day that I have paid time off, a terrific manager and health insurance. There are so many people that do not and I cannot imagine having the stresses of trying to pay the rent or the medical bills on top of the exhausting course of treatment. I simply can’t fathom what a horrible existence that would be. I know they now give free mammograms (thanks to Susan G. Komen and all the funds behind breast cancer) but what do you do if they find something and you have no health insurance? I have Kaiser and for the most part they have been good but here’s the problem: You go from radiologist to surgeon to oncology with no one really talking to each other. So when you meet with them they may (or may not) have read your record. It is very disconcerting and frustrating and requires the patient to be super vigilant. For example, my oncologist read my record wrong, but I knew it because I had received the pathology report from another doctor. I went from no chemotherapy to aggressive chemotherapy in the space of two minutes after it was pointed out to her. Billing is the same: the people collecting the co-pay have no idea I have met my maximum out-of-pocket for the year. I am still waiting for the letter from Member Services for them. I think that when you get a cancer diagnosis, a team should be assembled before the patient is even seen. They should talk regularly so everyone knows what is going on. And there has to be a way for the computers to get integrated so the billing and front desk folks have the same information.

On a more positive note, I have encountered so many wonderful people along the way. One that stands out is the gal at Super Cuts when I decided that I had to get my hair cut shorter because it was falling out. I had to tell her why I was getting it cut so if any clumps came out she wouldn’t be freaked out. She refused to accept payment for the cut or a tip and gave me a huge hug. What a gracious person! Neighbors, family, friends have all been wonderful, kind, generous beyond belief and I am so incredibly blessed to have such a support network. And the best way to love on someone is, really, just do it.

Just give a hug.  Just drop a card in the mail.

More info?  http://www.cancer.org

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