I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected in some way by cancer. It’s an awful disease that changes lives and takes lives. And because we all have a connection to cancer, talking about cancer is tricky. It’s more than tricky, it’s a trigger. The word ‘cancer’ triggers pain, fear, anger, and memories. It’s hard to separate our own cancer triggers from another’s cancer story.
We started understanding this when we began sharing that Adam had cancer.
“Adam has cancer” was met with:
“I lost my (insert varied family members) to cancer ____ years ago.”
“What kind of cancer is it? I know someone who had that kind of cancer.”
“Chemo is hard. You have a long journey ahead.”
“I read on the internet that with that kind of cancer, _______…”
(you get the picture)
We noticed quickly that the more details we told about Adam’s diagnosis and course of treatment, the more tricky and triggered responses we got. And right now, tricky and triggered responses aren’t really helpful to us because we’re still really raw and fragile from a new, scary diagnosis.
Comparing Adam’s cancer to someone else’s cancer isn’t very helpful to us. There’s not really a correlation from one cancer story to another. Just because someone died or survived from a similar type of cancer doesn’t mean that Adam will have the same outcome.
As I process through all of this, I realize how many times I’ve investigated rather than said, “I’m sorry, this is awful” when friends have shared hard news. I recognize that I can go into case manager mode rather than sit in the mess mode. I’ve been reflecting on how often I compare sad stories so I can wrap my head around just how sad things are, or how ok things will turn out.
Comparison stories rarely help any of us, especially when we are fumbling through the darkness. What we need, instead, are people to be present, to shine light in our darkness, or at least to be present with us, so the dark isn’t so scary.
A lot of people have cancer.
A lot of people have different types of cancer.
A lot of people have different stages of different types of cancer.
A lot of people have variable health conditions (gender, age, and other life situations) that make their stages of different types of cancer… well, different.
Every cancer story is unique.
Ours will be no different.
So, we’ve decided not to share many details about Adam’s cancer. There’s no sense triggering your memories, and there’s no amount of information that will help you wrap your head around it. Trust me on that. We know the full diagnosis and we’re still in shock.
I think sometimes we forget that understanding more information doesn’t make us more understanding.
So what kind of cancer is it?
It’s cancer. And it sucks. And the doctors think it’s treatable. And we believe Adam is going to beat this.