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I've Been There: A Poem About Cancer
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I've Been There: A Poem About Cancer

When receiving a cancer diagnosis, it means so much to have others be there for you.
PUBLISHED November 14, 2016
Ellen was a teacher, drug/alcohol counselor and school counselor for 32 years. Always being fairly “unique,” she was diagnosed with a unique form of breast cancer – one tumor followed by two more malignant tumors – in 2007. Ellen and her husband, although native New Yorkers, have lived in Seattle for 41 years. They have two grown children, two grandchildren and two standard poodles.
I’ve been there – Texts, emails and phone calls are just to tell you I’m thinking about you
No need to respond
I’ve been there
I’ll accompany you to your appointment
Bring you a meal
Come take a walk with you or run an errand
I’ve been there
I won’t ask you to call me if you need anything
You won’t
I’ve been there
I will never say anything stupid
Like I know someone who had a recurrence of the same type you have
Or how tired you look
Or ask if you think about dying
I’ve been there
I won’t tell you horror stories of anyone else’s journeys
Not even mine
I’ve been there
Cancer – the toxic humanizer I’m with you in solidarity
I’ve been there

I ran into someone I know only by sight in the locker room of the club I work out at. She was putting on a colorful scarf to cover her bald head. I approached her and commented on how lovely she looked. I also told her “I’ve Been There.” We began talking. She told me about her diagnosis of uterine cancer and her treatment. I listened. Then, for some reason, she began telling me about people who have been there for her, and those who haven’t. She teared up when she spoke about a good friend, a family friend. The husbands of the two couples have been friends for decades. They even spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together. But her friend has never acknowledged her cancer. Never said a word to her, or called her, or sent a card, or did anything. Kind of like it didn’t exist. Made her feel like she didn’t exist. She said when she feels up to it, she will tell her how she feels, if she can. I hugged her when we ended our conversation, but couldn’t get it out of my mind. When I went through my “journey,” it touched me deeply when people showed up. Conversely, the hurt I felt when a person I was close to couldn’t or would show up never really went away. None of us are comfortable with cancer. But if there’s ever a time to put aside any feelings about your own personal discomfort or thinking you might say or do the wrong thing, this is it the time. There is no right or wrong thing. Just. Show. Up. Please be there.
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