How Do You Talk To Someone With Cancer?

It’s a situation I wish none of us had to face, but it’s more or less inevitable that all of us do.

When someone you care about is diagnosed with a serious illness, how do you talk to them? What do you say? How do you keep their spirits up, and yours, in the face of something as terrible as cancer?

I’ve been there. I was that guy sitting next to you when you were sick, with no idea what to say. And now I’m that guy you’re sitting next to, as you’re trying to figure it out.

So, with me as an example, I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far…

First, it’s okay to talk about the disease. I’m dealing with this thing – it’s a fact you really can’t avoid. So it’s okay to ask how I’m feeling, physically or mentally or emotionally. If I’m hurting, it’s okay to talk about the nausea or vomiting or whatever symptoms I’m going through. You’re invested in my well being, so share it.

Second, it’s okay to not talk about the disease. As much as I know I can’t truly avoid it, sometimes I’d like to pretend I can. And you’ll figure out pretty quickly when those times are. So, talk about what’s going on in your life. Talk about your work. Talk about your family. Talk about that show you’re in. Talk about books you’ve read. Talk about that show on Netflix you really like. Give me things to write. Give me grief about my klutziness (and if you’ve known me long enough, you know I’ll give you a lot of material). Play cards with me. You can even gripe about the weather (and it’s 20 degrees as I’m writing this, which is reason enough to gripe in San Antonio). Life isn’t normal for me, so I appreciate the effort to carry on like it is.

And that’s the most important thing: treat me like the guy I used to be. I know my life has changed. I have cancer. But I don’t want to feel like I’m just That Guy With Cancer now. I want to be Lee. I miss being Lee. So when you call, when you text or FB me, when you stop by, just remember the way you used to talk to me before I was diagnosed, and keep doing that.

For anyone who’s asked if there’s anything I need… I think I need that the most.

Thanks as always for following along. Love you all…

A Quick Note About Future Posts

When I first announced my diagnosis on Facebook, I wrote that I didn’t want people to see me as That Guy With Cancer. I was still Plain Old Lee. I didn’t want that disease to define me.

And that’s why I’ve only written two posts about it in the last four months. I didn’t want this to become That Cancer Blog.

But I’ve had so many people respond to my updates. So many people thanking me for my bravery and strength. Personally, I don’t feel particularly strong or brave, but it means a lot to me that so many of you see that in me.

What I am, of course, without dispute, is a writer. And from the beginning, I knew I’d have to use what voice I have to get through this. I knew that I’d have to use my experience to help others.

A few of you know that I’ve been working on a long form project. Trying to share my story in my way. I don’t quite know if the shape it’s taking now will be its ultimate form, but it has helped me deal with the mental and emotional issues that come with this whole cancer thing.

But while and until that comes to fruition, I think I’ll be writing a little more on the blog. I’ll still do my best to keep my original focus on the arts and pop culture, but be ready for a brief update here, a definition there, when I feel like I have something to contribute. When I feel like I can help.

I hope you’ll read these posts. I hope you like them. And most of all, if you know someone who might be going through the same experience, I hope you’ll share them. I want your friends, your family, your loved ones to know what you all have reminded me time and again: that we’re not alone.

Thank you.

Digging for Good in an Objectively Terrible Year

I really don’t want to write this post.

It’s always a challenge to write the last post of the year. Looking back always means having to work through those year-end blues. Regrets for missed opportunities. For all the times I stumbled. The goals I never quite achieved. All those little and big things that wear on you. Or at least on me.

But this year just felt worse. So much loss. So much darkness and meanness. So much stress. So many people hurting.

And then there’s that one thing I don’t want to address, but I know I have to.

That Whole Cancer Thing.

Some of you will know that I was sick for a long time before I was diagnosed. And I probably had the cancer for a long time before I even knew I was sick (Stage IV doesn’t just come out of nowhere). You witnessed the effects first hand, and I’m sorry you had to.

Once the diagnosis came, it kind of derailed my life. I couldn’t work. I didn’t have the strength to even walk, let alone get out and about like I used to. For a while, I wasn’t even sure I had the strength to write. I was lonely. I was scared. Part of me still is.

And when I remember 2016, I have to remember all of that.

But I’m trying to remember the rest of it too. I’m trying to remember the good.

I’ve received so much love and support from everyone. Friends and family I’ve known for years, who have always had my back. Friends I’m still getting to know, who weren’t afraid to reach out to someone who was too shy or scared or at least unsure to reach out to them. People I’ve loved and appreciated. People I’d taken for granted for far too long. So many people, so many friends, that I can’t begin to name them all.

You gave your time. You gave your presence. You gave your gifts (I wasn’t going to share that link – I always feel a little awkward about asking for help – but I suspect my sister would at least approve). You embraced me when I could be around for you, and forgave me when I couldn’t. Literally and figuratively, you showed up for me.

It’s such a rare thing to know, while you’re still here on Earth, how much you’re loved. For all I’ve been through, I have the gift of knowing. And for all the bad stuff, for me that one bit of good is the best thing about 2016. It’s the thing I’m going to carry with me into 2017.

So what comes next?

My goals for the year ahead are the same goals I had in the year behind, the goals cancer kind of derailed. Build my calling into a career. Get out and engage with the people in my life. Do better. Be better.

And get better.

It probably won’t be easy. I still have a long way to go. But I’m fighting.

And I know I don’t have to fight alone.

Thank you, everyone. I know I say it all the time now, but I still don’t feel like I say it nearly enough – I love you all.

See you next year…