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Allison 1.

February 19, 2010

This is from my friend Allison’s I’m a Lucky One brochure:

1. Unless you have personally experienced or are dealing with a life-threatening illness, don’t say you know what your friend or loved one is going through. Unless you have experienced exactly what this person is experiencing, don’t say you know. It’s natural to want to find some connection to others, so sometimes when we don’t know what to say we try to empathize by sharing our own experiences. A very close, well-meaning friend told me she understood my position because she had endured a breast biopsy and the waiting for results was pure agony. I’ll give her that one, but she went on to say her biopsy was benign, so she never had to endure hearing the words, “you have cancer!” She really had no idea what I was going through. This goodwill gesture to connect felt shallow and forced and left me feeling empty.

Resist the temptation to empathize using your experiences, unless you’ve had the exact same experience. Instead say, “I can’t possibly know what you are going through. Honestly, I don’t know what to say, but please know that I am thinking of you. I care about you very much.” That’s all you have to say. This version is so much more real. No one expects you to know what to say in this awful situation, but your presence – either in person or by card or email – will be felt and appreciated. If you know the person well enough, you can get more specific and add, “I’m praying for you, sending all my positive energy your way,” etc.

Allison knew and I know that people mean well. It’s just hard to have to deal with good intentions that take away more than they give. I will do my best to take inappropriate comments, put a pretty bow on them and put them aside, without letting them hurt me. Or I’ll just drop-kick them, give myself a little bit of an energy boost.

Thank you Allison.

You’re not the only lucky one.

More from Allison to come.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2010 3:03 pm

    This is wonderful. What an awesome lady she was. Looking forward to reading more.

  2. February 19, 2010 3:48 pm

    I can’t possibly know what you are going through. Honestly, I don’t know what to say, but please know that I am thinking of you. I care about you very much.

  3. February 19, 2010 5:50 pm

    You are completely right. While I have had a malignant cancer it was taken away. So yes I do know about the initial worry of the test results, then the actual diagnosis and the fear that can not be felt in any other sense than when you really really REALLY think your life “could” be over. For me it was like a betrayal of my body. It is hard to explain but I am sure you can relate. It changes your perspective.

    I do not know what it is like to have such a whirlwind diagnosis and radical surgery such as yours, and forgive me, but I hope I never do. I don’t sugarcoat things, this SUCKS and by SUCKS I mean the worst way ever. Cancer is the most hated word in my vocabulary for personal reasons. Sometimes you just need a friend to tell you “THIS SUCKS!!!” I know I did.

    But there is hope, we all know this, but when you are in the middle of it, you don’t want to hear it and we need that time to grieve, be angry and finally, acceptance of what has happened and we just take it from there.

    I do not know what I would choose if in the same situation. I won’t unless it happens to me. Your story has pushed me to finally get my first mammogram. It really woke me up.

    I truly hope I have never done anything to offend you .

    I think of you often and wish you nothing but happiness and wellness. 🙂

  4. fran permalink
    February 19, 2010 6:00 pm

    Kathy, people have said so many things to you…let me add another…

    “everything is always okay in the end, if it’s not, then it’s not the end.”

    For me, it was the journey that I’ve had to take to come out okay in the end. I believe it will be that way way for you too. The journey…and it will be YOUR journey, unique like no one else’s, yet the same as other cancer patients/suvivors when it’s all over…at the end.

  5. February 19, 2010 6:07 pm

    I vote for drop-kicking the inappropriate comments. Obviously I have zero clue what you’re going through. All I can say is how impressed I am with how well you seem to be handling it. You are an amazing woman, and if anything like this ever happened to me, I can only hope to deal with it half as well. You know I’m sending you all the most positive vibes I can.

  6. February 19, 2010 8:47 pm

    I have no idea how you are feeeling, but I am here, cheering you on, praying for you and sending you postiive healing chemo vibes. Oh, nad if you really want a thong I will buy you one!

  7. February 20, 2010 2:47 am

    You’re right, Kathy, to take poorly informed remarks and set them aside, knowing they’re intended to help and not to hurt. That’s the important thing. The fear of saying or doing the wrong thing is what keeps people from reaching out. Maybe you’re fortunate that people feel they can safely give it a try, with you, even when they don’t know what they’re doing. They think you’re smart enough to know their intentions are loving.
    I suspect that even with a similar cancer diagnosis and prognosis, after the initial shock, fear, etc, every cancer patient has a different experience in many ways. It must depend a lot on each person’s character. Some want to talk about it. Some want to forget about it every chance they get. Some feel sorry for themselves. Some are fighting mad. Some are accepting. Some pray. Some don’t believe prayer makes any difference. There must be as many variations as there are people.
    Alison makes good points, worth remembering. Thanks for sharing.
    And Patty’s dream! What a beautiful message.
    -Kate

  8. February 20, 2010 8:07 am

    Amen to that!

  9. Floweer permalink
    February 20, 2010 10:08 am

    Allison put it well. I do not know what you are going thru – but I want you to know I am here for you – and always will be. You are an excellent teacher – in a classs you did not want to teach. Thanks for the good lessons.

    Let me know when you are ready for a walk – a latte – ice cream or anything else. Luv ya!!!!!

  10. Claudia permalink
    February 20, 2010 10:10 am

    I’m thinking of you…every day!

  11. poolagirl permalink
    February 20, 2010 11:16 am

    Inappropriate comments suck! I know people mean well, but sheeeet! This isn’t a contest!

  12. February 20, 2010 11:40 am

    Thank heavens for Allison, who has finally made it possible for me to comment. I have no idea what you’re going through and less idea of what to say. I just heart you to bits, is all.

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