In 2018 when I learned that my cancer returned, I decided that I was going to share my journey with others so they can try to understand the mind of a person who was going through a fight for life. Here I am in 2020, and again I am still fighting the battle.
There are good and bad days.
A few weeks ago, I started to have pains in my right hip and shoulder, so at my last treatment, when asked why I was limping, I casually said, “Oh, I am just getting old.” She replied, with a look of concern and calmly said, “we need to get that checked out.” I agreed, and it was something about her face that let me know that I should be concerned. This nurse is someone who could be my mother, and so I feel like when I am getting my treatment, I am treated like a child of those working.
I try to go to treatment, smiling, and joking because I know people are not excited to be getting the various kinds of treatment. I strive to make others laugh. I recall the movie Patch Adams where Robin Williams portrayed a medical student who was focused not on the treatment or the illness, but rather on the person. The character-focused on the person and, in turn, treated them as just that—a person. Either I am funny or funny looking—regardless despite my inner sadness and pain, for a moment, I want to make others forget about the problem they have and laugh.
Go back a week ago after they got my biopsy results back and wanted to culture some of the material to determine what, if anything, should be done as we advance. Well, today I got the call. I saw the number show up on the phone, and I intentionally ignored the call—Voicemail.
“Nick, this is XXX, with Mercy… Please return my call today.” So, at 4 pm I picked up the phone and I called, and despite hearing the words, “you have cancer” several times before, in my life, I was again hearing them say, “Nick, the culture came back, and it is Can—I stopped them before they could finish the word… Maybe that would make it stop, go away, and not be true. I immediately said, Okay, now what? Her response did you want to come in and talk about it—no, I exhaustedly said, just lay it out for me. First, the cancer is not in the bone, but on the bone. It’s isolated to the right side, and the new drug we are giving you should control it, but like with anything, there are NO guarantees when talking about cancer.
I understood and hung up the phone. A new treatment plan is now in place, a method of attack, and just another setback in my life that, yet again I am forced to face, and in all honesty, I am facing it alone.
Before you think, NO, Nick, you are not alone; I want you think about these things.
Cancer is not a group effort—it is a one-person battling for their life. Yes, of course, other people have cancer, but EVERYONE is different, and thus the fight will look different in every person. You can’t fix it for me. You can’t take it away and make it all better. It is a lone battle.
Some things that I realized is this, words are powerful, and sometimes they are used with perfect, yet imperfect intentions, “If you need anything, stay strong, everything is going to be fine…”
Here’s the thing how one who tries to help and say the ideal thing may not realize that, in reality, they are hurting the person with cancer.
I found several things through reading that was inspiring to me that made me realize how true they were, and I want to share them with you.
I ask that you consider refraining from saying these things:
- Everything is going to be okay. Unfortunately, no one can promise that, and this phrase can be considered dismissive. Avoid being a cheerleader, “You’ll be okay, “You’ll get through this.” Sometimes the cheerleading is annoying mostly if I was up all night, feel like crap, puking, coughing up blood, in so much pain, etc.
- I know what you’re going through is difficult. This saying may seem sympathetic, but the problem with this comment is that you don’t know what the person is going through. Even if you had cancer yourself, the experiences are vastly different. Avoid trying to put yourself in my shoes—it diminishes what I am going through—and you don’t mean any harm in what you said.
- Well, at least you got a good kind of cancer! WHAT? There is absolutely NO good cancer.
- God never gives you more than you can handle. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think cancer is a part of God’s plan—I don’t believe this is God’s way of punishing someone. Faith can be tricky when one is faced with so many emotions.
- Maybe you should have exercised or eaten healthier! How did you get it? Did you smoke? Did someone in your family have it? Avoid interrogating someone and don’t try to blame the person with cancer—I promise you that no one sits at home and hopes they get cancer.
- Don’t compare. Don’t try to tell a story to make the person try to relate to someone else you knew who is/was fighting cancer.
- Don’t make the person feel bad for needing or wanting you. Don’t say you are doing your best–because truth be told we all can do better.
- Don’t make plans for the future–do it now. Don’t wait.
What you can say and do:
- I am not sure what to say, but I want you to know I love you.
- I love you.
- How are you really doing? Don’t ask this question if you are not ready to hear the real answer.
- We’re going to get through this together! This lets the person know that you are going to be there through the good, bad, convenient, and inconvenient times. You are going to be the arms that hold them, comforts them, and cares for them—despite what else may be going on.
- Don’t wait to be asked to do something for the person- Do it. “I will be over to take care of the dogs, bring you dinner, help you with a simple task, etc. Don’t make promises and then not follow through.
There is not a manual on the journey. There is not a direct answer. People are human, and they are not always sure what to do when faced with the unknown. People are scared, and they try not to show the emotions and feelings to look like the brave one—it is okay to be you. Don’t take offense if the person turns down an offer to come to visit, go to dinner, etc. That does not mean you should stop asking.
Earlier this week, I celebrated 42 years of life. I realized as I thought about the future and what if this is my last year. I don’t know, but what I do know is that the small gestures of people in my life made me forget for a moment of the pain, the fear, and the sadness and to see people parade through my neighborhood, watch people prepare for a small gathering, take me to dinner, give me a card, etc. It made me feel like I mattered, at least at that moment.
There was this one gift I received on Tuesday with a little knock on the door—I walked down the stairs and opened the door, and it was two of the neighbor kids, Riley and Landon, and they with the purest of heart, looked at me and said, Happy Birthday, Mr. Nick…” That almost made me break down and cry. Then Landon, the younger of the two-handed, me a $15.00 gift card to Sonic and again, it brought on the tears. They didn’t honestly know the impact of that moment, but it mattered. Or when the students in the first-year class made cupcakes, held the parade in my neighborhood—they didn’t have to do it, but they did. The 100s of the Facebook post all mattered. Not a moment passed that I did not soak up and truly reflect on it. What I realized was that people don’t have to be family or remotely close to you to care—there are still people who are good and genuinely take the time to make others feel special in a moment. So, thank you to everyone! If this was my last birthday on this Earth, thanks to those, who made sure I had a good day.
This is where I am. I am filled with so many emotions these days: some good, some bad. But, in the end, I keep fighting because I don’t know what else to do.
Just remember a persons cancer journey is not black and white.