Zip It

Donna-Lee Lista

I often wonder why people feel the need to tell you how they think you should feel and act about having cancer. Of course, it is their opinion and they are entitled to think it, but it doesn’t mean they are entitled to share it. There are 3 topics that you shouldn’t offer an opinion on unless it is asked for; how to handle a cancer diagnosis, disciplining someone’s children and offering advice on someone’s marriage, (politics and religion withstanding). Of course given the forum of this blog, guess which one I am going to expound upon? Until you have walked one step in another person’s “cancer shoes” – Zip It!

When I hear people, friends actually, make comments about how they think people should behave who have been diagnosed with cancer I want to slap them. Ok, this is extreme but in certain situations it is warranted. I know from personal experience, sometimes you are so freaked out, you behave in ways so unlike your normal personality it shocks even you yourself. I know I didn’t want anyone to know my diagnosis. In fact, I did such a 180 degree turnaround for my personality that sometimes to this day I can’t explain it.

I kept my news to a tight close circle of friends. I couldn’t even face telling my mother since I knew she would be devastated since my dad had died from lung cancer. My husband, two daughters’, one sister, three closets friends in PA and two out of state, for a total of nine people, knew. They were sworn to secrecy. Weird, yes, but until I could come to terms with it, I wasn’t able to deal with the outside world knowing. I couldn’t bear being the object of pity or gossip. As it was, there was a nosy acquaintance questioning my neighbors, because someone they knew saw me at the hospital cancer center. It was disrespectful and very hurtful to me especially at a time when I had so much else to deal with. Why couldn’t they have just said a prayer for me and kept their mouth shut?

The other day, two of my closest friends and I were discussing our friend who had recently been diagnosed with another cancer, she had shared it with us and we were doing all we could to help her. A particular situation arose and she handled it in a very weird way not really in line with her personality. It certainly was not in a way we would have expected or more importantly, not in a way either of my girlfriends think they would have handled it. They both said, “I can’t understand her doing that? It would have made her feel better if she had done X instead of Z”. I really wanted to say; how the heck would you know what would have made her feel better? But I controlled myself, took a breath remembered that these two people are truly wonderful and kind, but just completely clueless in this case. I then turned to them and said, “You two have no idea what you are talking about”.

The first rule of behavior during cancer is; there are no rules! Second, if a person has never gotten a cancer diagnosis square in the eyes, they have no idea how they would behave. When I pointed this out, being the thoughtful people they are, they agreed. The problem is, sometimes people voice these opinions right to the patient not realizing the impact. They do it out of concern, but unless they are in a professional therapeutic field, it is best to keep quite. My family basically told me I was really being nutty. Well, I went to a professional therapist who told me I was well within my boundaries of privacy. He gave me parameters of what was not normal and said I was allowed to process however I wanted otherwise. I went back to my family explained this to them and they were very respectful. Eventually I found my way, sometimes it comes down to you and you alone working through it, and look at me now.

The basic principle I am trying to get across is this; believe in yourself. Go to a professional if there is any question so you know your own personal parameters, but grieve and process your own way. If well-meaning friends or family question what you are doing (unless it is harmful, or you are showing up for chemo naked) explain that you need them to just hold your hand, and wipe your tears, but to let you lead the way.

If you have just been diagnosed or are in the middle of your treatment now, allow yourself the luxury of doing whatever helps you to cope. If you want to make a facebook page and tell all details –do it. If you aren’t up to talking on the phone- that’s why answering machines were invented. If you want to stay away from people not in your inner circle- remember you are under no obligation to make sure everyone knows your business. If you want to practice reiki, get a massage, cut your hair, stay in bed some days, cry and shout to the gods, take trips to shrines fine- do whatever works. You will find your way. We all do.

Oh and for those of you reading this who are the well-meaning friends and family, there is one rule for you; show your love by listening, as hard as it may be don’t be nosy, bite your tongue, and just zip it, please.

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