Sometimes there are just no words…


Many people struggle with what to say to a person who has been newly diagnosed with cancer. In fact that person may quickly become a magnet for platitudes! Things such as “sure anyone of us could be run over by a bus tomorrow” – it’s always a bus and it’s always tomorrow, but really how often does that happen?? And they always have a great aunt mabel who had just the same cancer as you and she lived to be 100. What they don’t realise is that everyone’s cancer and treatment is different. The “you’re so brave” and “keep positive” cliches can be particularly irksome, but I realise it all comes from a place of discomfort on the other person’s part. 

I can laugh about those well meaning but misguided friends and acquaintances now, but recently I found myself in just such a situation, only this time the roles were reversed. I was the one at a loss for what to say. I met up with a friend of my own age, whom I shared a lot of time with when we both went through our breast cancer treatment together four and a half years ago. We shared our fears and our hopes for the future. We watched as our bodies changed with the treatment, shared tips on how to deal with the chemo and the radiotherapy and shed our hair at the same time. We celebrated together as our bodies regained its strength and  marvelled at our hair as it grew back, fuzzy, then curly and finally back to its original state. We kept in touch after our treatment but really we were both so busy getting back to normality and on with our lives, that we saw each other less and less. Then just before last Christmas, I contacted my friend, and heard the devastating news that her cancer had come back. I didn’t know what to say. All I know is that I felt so much guilt and yes, fear. Guilt that her cancer had returned, while mine had not and fear because if hers could come back, then what’s to say mine won’t. I frantically did an inventory of her treatment and compared it to mine. Meanwhile, I still didn’t know what to say and I am ashamed to say, that I avoided her for a while, because I couldn’t face her. 

Eventually, the shame got to me and I contacted her to meet up. I was so nervous before we met. What would she look like? What would I say? What would she say? Would she resent me for doing so well, while she is struggling with metastatic cancer? Well, we did meet up, and I wish I could say everything was ok, but it wasn’t. I could think of no words of comfort and she ended up comforting me instead! My heart is still breaking for this brave woman and when I say brave, I am not being platitudinous here. She is brave, and courageous but she is also tired, and she is sick and she is afraid and I just wish I had the words that would ease all of this, but sometimes there are no words.

Related Post: Battling cancer again