When my mother was diagnosed with Stage 3C Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in February, 2015, I was in shock. One thing I do when I am in shock and/or faced with troubles, I strive to find solutions and create savory outcomes through extensive action. So when it came to my reaction to her diagnosis, I immediately went into some motivational speaking rant with the intent to inspire her to FIGHT! To love herself. All the while in my inner dialogue was screaming, “when she feels like giving up, DO NOT let her! Tell her how powerful she is and never take no for an answer! Research every modality for fighting breast cancer and educate her on them! Get her moving and exercising and drinking a lot of water! Show her how beautiful she is! Create a hashtag as a rally cry to show her how much she is supported and how absolutely loved she is. Raise money for her! Buy her turmeric tea and give her information on alternative therapies!”
And although an approach of action can be successful in life, business, and in relationships, the way I used these actions never proved to be all that successful in my mom’s cancer battle or my journey through it. Why not? Because while I was looking for answers and solutions and constantly educating her and fighting for her, I guess I failed at truly being present for her. Because I couldn’t fathom what she was going through, I tried to approach her disease and her fight through what I was going through because of my absolute fear of losing her. I never wanted to believe she would pass away from this horrendous disease, so in my own naivety, I couldn’t accept the possibility and very clear reality of her disease and the outcome of it; and therefor I couldn’t be 100% emotionally or physically available for her.
Now, can I blame myself for this? No, not anymore. Although for the past year since she passed, I beat myself up for seemingly approaching all of this so “terribly wrong”. But it wasn’t, it was all I knew how to do at that time. And it came from an honest place of love and hope and fear. And if we do anything in love, it cannot be wrong. But we can always be better.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. I cannot go back and approach things differently with her but I can move forward in my responses and approaches to others’ trials, tribulations, and sicknesses. I can share my “infinite wisdom” through raw candor on what I have learned and what I could and will do differently. And that is what I am here to do today.
Talk and Listen
You’re not alone if you don’t know what to say. From the time you learn of their diagnosis and through their entire journey, you’ll often not know what to say or often you’ll have too much to say. For all of the positive and uplifting things I shared with my mom; to every #TeamMamaWisth bracelet that was sold; for every smoothie recipe she didn’t make and replaced with a cheeseburger; for the times she would cry and cry and cry and I felt helpless for a response; EVERY single thing I told her was from love. It was from a place so deeply nestled in my heart and soul that it couldn’t be wrong, could it?
Well, it could be and it often was because although it was solely based on my love and adoration for her, it was also out of fear. And when we respond in fear, we never truly assess the situation, the other party, or how what we say can resonate with them. I realize that I never truly assessed where she was coming from or what she needed because I wasn’t truly listening, I was responding to what I thought was best. So, I urge you to respond with a big, loving hug in which you can couple with something simple and heartfelt. But often a big, long, loving hug can often do wonders. If you feel the need to speak, I greatly suggest something in line with the following:
“I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I love you so much and I am here.”
“I’m sorry to hear that you are going through this/that you feel this way.”
“I Love You.”
“I am here for you.”
“I will fight for you.”
“I will fight with you.”
And while it’s good to be encouraging, it’s also important not to show false optimism or tell the person with cancer to always stay positive. While your intentions are rooted in a good place, doing these things may discount their very real and understandable fears, concerns, or sad feelings.
In Humor We Cope
Using humor can be an important way of coping for your loved one and it can certainly lend a hand in showing support and encouragement. But let your loved on take the lead; it’s healthy and healing if they can find something funny about their journey through cancer and joining them in a good laugh can help. These exchanges of laughter and light can be a great way to relieve stress, elevate the mood, and provide a much-needed break from the more serious elements of the situation.
My mother used humor as a coping mechanism when she was faced with this atrocious disease. Through the fear, we’d laugh. Through the victories, we would laugh. Through the constant stream of bad news, we’d laugh. Through the unknown, we’d laugh. Through the celebrations, we’d laugh. Through the tears, we’d laugh. Not because any of it was “funny”. There’s absolutely nothing funny about Cancer and the barrage of horrendous outcomes that accompany it. But through our ability to still find enough joy – in anything we could – to laugh, we found abundant strength, courage, faith, hope, and so much love.
As simple as the suggestions above may seem, they have been paramount in my grief and my growth. I hope that these simple morsels of “wisthdom” can help you in some way, shape, or form through your journey through your loved one’s cancer battle. Remember, BIG HUGS are necessary, humor is a great coping mechanism, and you are not alone in trying to work through this very tough time. My heart is with you and your loved one.