Thursday, May 03, 2012

May 3, 2012 – Cancer Changes Everything...and Nothing

Saw a perceptive blog posting today on the New York Times website by Suleika Jaouad, a young woman who’s undergoing a bone-marrow transplant for leukemia.

She makes the usual observation – something I remember well, after going public with my diagnosis – that she’s experienced a whole range of reactions from people.  Some seem able to process the news, others get flustered.  Some friends are right there for you, others go AWOL, at least for a while.

Cancer’s a big, big subject, and it calls forth a range of emotions.  Suleika admits being surprised and troubled by this at first, but then when she got a little distance on the situation, she became more philosophical:

“But in the year since my diagnosis, my feelings of hurt have given way to understanding. How can I expect anyone to produce the perfect, reflexive response to such sudden and unpleasant news? Cancer can catch even the best of us off guard. Sometimes the emotions come pouring out. Sometimes they stay locked inside. I've realized that it's nearly impossible to summon the ‘right’ words while simultaneously processing the news that someone you love has a life-threatening illness. I find myself counseling my friends and family that there is no perfect thing to say – but that they just have to say something.”

I’d want to add, “Sometimes you don’t need to say anything at all, just be there.” But I think that’s what she means.

What is it that makes us yearn for a script to bring to our most significant human interactions?  We seek the perfect words, whatever that means. Sure, words are important, but in the last analysis, it’s seldom the words our friends and family say that’s important.  It’s who they are, and how their loving presence intersects with ours.

Cancer changes a lot about our lives, but that’s something that doesn’t change.

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