One of my daughters claims that the best fiction is the type where the world in which the characters exist is the same as our own, but with just one crucial difference. If you’ve got kids in the house, you know the stories she means – think Harry Potter or Warriors.
I laughed when she told me that because it perfectly explained the odd and overwhelming experience of my old, familiar world suddenly revealing a hidden and totally “other” world of people living amongst us. I wish magic or a talking cat dynasty comprised that new world. It’s just cancer, though.
Sadly, it’s a world that too many people in my life have entered: My mother-in-law, mom, brother-in-law, friend’s husband, co-worker, husband’s friends and friends have all been diagnosed with cancer, from early stages to stage 4. Unlike the magical world of Harry Potter, you can’t learn spells and tricks to shield yourself from the pain of cancer.
But there’s something you can do (besides giving money to fund metastatic cancer research. Please do that).
You can reach out with love.
Even if you’ve known for a while that an old friend or a distant family member has cancer, it’s not too late to reach out. She wants to hear from you. It’s OK to be afraid and to not know what to say. That’s how it is for just about everyone. Give a hug, send a card, acknowledge the world that your friend is now inhabiting. Your silence hurts her. And it hurts you too. It is hard and scary and requires courage of a special type to remain close to someone who could be, or is, dying.
My mother-in-law, who died of lung cancer when my middle daughter was an infant, didn’t want me to come across the country with the baby to say goodbye to her. She knew she was dying and so did her family. I honored her request, but to this day I regret not having a chance to hold her close and tell her in person how much I loved her.
Pick up a phone or a pen. You can make the life of someone living with cancer a little sweeter and fill it with another gift of love. It is as easy as saying
I love you
I miss you
I’m so sorry you’re going through this
Remember when we…skipped school, went on that date, saw that actor…
I want to see you. Can you see me?
Let me bring dinner
You are special to me
It’s not too late. I see and read about people who have no one in their lives, people whose friends have turned away because of this disease and I've experienced that myself. If you are a certain age and lived in a certain place — New York City for me — you remember what the AIDS crisis was like as men you knew were suddenly ill and then dead or dying shockingly fast.