The “Easy” Way Out?

Today is Samson’s birthday.

In a couple of weeks, it will be a year since we put him down.  This random combination of thoughts came to me last week when a certain new item caught my eye.

Gloria Taylor is a British Columbian woman who lives with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). She was the face of five plaintiffs who went to the Supreme Court to strike down the ban on assisted suicide in that province. The grounds were that the ban discriminated against the disabled because, get this, they cannot commit suicide on their own.

The argument was that an able-bodied individual could end their own life without assistance. For those dealing with terminal conditions, there comes a point in time when this is no longer an option. It’s usually at this later stage that the idea of suicide is much more appealing than the years, months, weeks, days, the individual has left as a prisoner of their own bodies.

Now I toyed with the idea of not writing this column, simply because it falls under one of those contentious issues, like abortion, religion and hockey. But I feel strongly about this myself and to be honest, I was excited when I heard the news.

When Samson was suffering, we could tell. It was as obvious as if he could verbalize the pain he was in. Most people would say they would not allow an animal to suffer, they would have the “put to sleep.”

I have watched loved ones die. I have heard some of them wish for death to come. I have heard of people whose family members have asked them to help them bring their end to them. How is ok for a dog to be euthanized, but I couldn’t do it for a family member?

To be fair, there are differences between euthanasia and assisted suicide.

1. Euthanasia –

: the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured

individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for

reasons of mercy. The word is Greek and means “easy death.”

<PAUSE>

This can be a simple as someone withholding care or taking part

in the act of ending someone’s life. Notice how people and animals are lumped

together?

<PLAY>

2. Assisted Suicide –

: suicide committed by someone with assistance from another person;

especially : physician-assisted suicide

<PAUSE>

This is a specific plan where a doctor provides the means for a person to administer

drugs or an act that will allow the individual to end their own life. Something

they could not otherwise do on their own.

<PLAY>

Thank you Merriam-Webster.

Immediately the battle cries were out for an appeal of this decision.

How can we allow these people who have suffered so much the “easy” way out???

Well I’ve got a thought for you. If you are saying the Court will not allow

anyone to take part in an action that will result in the death of another person, then they better get a lot more vigilant about methamphetamine dealers and producers, because THAT, my friend, is how a lot more people are going to die at the hand of another person.

It’s not like I don’t have a grasp on the concept of suicide. It has come close enough to me to know that there are times when I can see it is not the right option. There is pain and suffering for the family members left behind. But when we are looking at cases like this, how can it be a bad thing? Instead of an indefinite period of time where your family stands vigil for you, watches you waste away, is forced to have their last memories of you be tainted by the ravages of the disease that will ultimately claim you, you can have your time, prepare and allow a more humane procedure take place. Less drugs. Less hospital time. Less drama. Less trauma.

This topic first came to light in a big way back in 1992 when Sue Rodriguez, also suffering from ALS and living in Victoria, B.C., challenged the ban. She was denied the right to an assisted suicide, but in 1994, she was successful in finding an anonymous doctor who would help and she was given her assisted suicide that year.

“If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?” she asked. (cbc.com June 15, 2012)

Indeed. Who?

Choices, choices…

“Regret is a useless emotion.”

This is my favourite quote. It came from my Journalism teacher, Bob Trotter, who would know a thing or two about the topic. I have applied this quote to much of my life. Including last night.

I had TONNES to do. Just got in the door, planning to grab a bite to eat and sit down to some photo editing and writing. After that there was a mountain of house work that I could get in to. Second Born Son had other ideas.

“Why don’t you come outside and do sidewalk chalk with me?” he asked. I was thrilled he had dug them out because I’ve come close on a couple of occasions to throwing them out. It seemed the boys have out grown it.

I had a choice here. Work, or be with the kid. The kid isn’t going to ask me to hang out with him much longer. I’ve already noticed a difference in his brother – damn hormones! Why do I work? To provide for my family. Isn’t my job as a mother include showing my kids how to have fun, as well as a strong work ethic? I’d been sitting at a computer most of the day – did I really want to sit down at one again?

I made a compromise. How about I take pictures of him doing sidewalk chalk? I am, as you know, still breaking in the new camera. He agreed to that – if we talked more about how to take pictures, because he’s going to be a photographer when he grows up, you know! He had already completed his drawing of me. (He always puts long hair on me, and yet as long as he’s been on this earth, the longest it’s been is to my shoulders.)

Then he decided he wanted to play Frisbee. We had done this earlier in the week since it was a great way to get his arm moving again.

<PAUSE>

Great trip to the specialist. The fracture has healed and may take care of the complication I mentioned previously. He was told to start moving the arm and we have booked physiotherapy for him. We have one more follow-up appointment, but we are beyond thrilled.

<PLAY>

So we got the Frisbee out. Can Mom still shoot and catch a Frisbee?

For the record – No.

But it was a nice evening, so we spent some time goofing around with cameras, lights and Frisbees.

Then along came Roman…..

Funnily enough, from the day SBS broke his arm, Roman has been patient and gentle with him. He would lick his fingers and sit softly beside him. Now that the collar and cuff are off, apparently, it’s No Holds Barred. (Fear not – this is not the broken arm.)

Then, like most good things, it went too far, and someone had to “Drop the Hammer.”

“GENTLE Roman! Take it easy. GENTLE!”

Before you know it, everyone is friends again, and we are back to the game.  (A Fun Fact for you. First Born Son wore that shirt A WEEK AGO. He got it for CHRISTMAS!)

Speaking of FBS, he’d been holed up in his room working on a Culminating Project – one of three he needs to turn in within a week. Don’t feel too bad for him, he’s only got two exams and has had more field trips in one year than I had in my ENTIRE. EDUCATIONAL. CAREER.

Yes, I’m working on the bitterness…

So FBS came outside for a break and decided to join us, which was nice because he doesn’t “play” often.

We had a delay of game because Roman and SBS got into it…AGAIN!

SBS is the only one Roman treats like a chew toy. But SBS kinda likes it. Except for the dog-butt-in-the-face part. It was obvious Roman needed to burn off some energy, so FBS got out his toys.

Running…running…running….

SBS sat out on this because the ball is heavier than it looks and Roman will MOW YOU DOWN if you are in between him and ball. We watched “safely” from the sidelines.

After a couple of minutes, it was time to get in on the act, and a lively game of Keep Away started….

Before you know it, I’ve got three tired boys! Lots of laughs, lots of photos and lots of grass stained knees!

So, in short, I didn’t get the dishes done until 10. I didn’t edit the photos I took earlier in the week. I didn’t write the story I have ready to go. I didn’t fold laundry until 9.

…and I don’t regret the choice I made last night.

A Year Ago

A year ago, I couldn’t go to the back of my parents’ property to see the Trilliums.

That’s because a year ago, my father was going into the hospital. We missed a lot last year; the trees coming out in leaf, the magical ponds that appear only in the spring,

…we missed the little things that deserve our attention. We missed a lot.

But we were more afraid of missing the things that could have been. We were afraid of what might not be. We were lucky, blessed, if you will. A year ago things looked very bleak, or so we thought.

Six months ago, however, we found out what bleak was. But that was then and this is now. Six months can make a world of difference.

Today, I went for a tractor ride with my father. He worked. The fact that he could do so, well, there are no words.

We looked at the flowers, the magical ponds and admired that no matter what happens in nature, spring always has a way of giving us hope.

Sticks & Stones

When I was two years old, I fell down two stairs and broke my arm.

My mother said she was devastated, and felt like the worst mother EVER when she brought me home from the hospital with the World’s Smallest Cast. People gave her funny looks, openly judging this possibly “abusive” woman and her victim child. What makes this story a chuckle is that when my father tried the pull off pjs, he accidentally pulled off my cast, so thin was my wee arm. The loss of the cast traumatized me, she said, as I thought it was part of my body. Thankfully, at this point, the fracture was healed. My father’s self esteem; in pieces.

Then I broke my collar-bone. I was five and didn’t bounce that well off the back of my dad’s pickup truck when he was “keeping an eye” on me. I did well for a couple of years, and was almost injury free. In Grade 7 my mother and I tacked up for an after school ride. It ended abruptly after my horse launched me into a rock pile in the first few minutes. I remember hold up my fettucine limp right arm and exclaiming to my mother, “Yup, it’s broke.”

Due to complications with the break (I came to while it was being set, and screamed so loud my father burst into the treatment room – not a good scene.) they decided to keep me in overnight. When I finally dozed off hours later, my mother was by my side, still in the clothes she wore when we went for our ride. Maybe she was avoiding going home, where my father declared he was going, to shoot the horse that dislodged me. (Fear not, he didn’t.)

I honestly couldn’t appreciate what my parents felt, watching me in these various scenarios. Kids get hurt, bones break. Big deal – they heal! It seemed like they were over reacting. (I’m not going to bore you with the details of my adventures that resulted in stitches. Believe me, that list is just as long.)

Then I became a mother.

And I had to take First Born Son to the hospital for a broken collar-bone.

In fairness to me, there was A LOT of stress going around and some extenuating circumstances that made this particular visit more frustrating that in might have been.

The doctor was very good in dealing with FBS and was direct when he told me, “It’s broken.” But one look at that X-ray and I LOST. MY. EVER. LOVIN’. MIND. Something in my head snapped and I had such a rush of adrenaline that made me feel like I could have thrown the X-ray machine across the emergency department. I’m not even really kidding about that. I was sad, scared and pissed off all the same time. Stike that. I was just pissed off. This injury was ill-timed and unfair, and I was beside myself just thinking about the consequences for my child. I would gladly let the doctor break MY collarbone, if it meant my son wouldn’t have to suffer. I could feel the irrational anger getting the better of me, and so I sat down in the examination room to cool off before they brought FBS back to me.

And passed out.

When I came to, I was laying on the cot and FBS was staring at me, about two inches away from my face and a look of desperation I don’t think I’ve seen since. Yup, my kid’s first time in emerg and it becomes about me. Let me know when the trophies are being handed out, cuz I’m MOTHER OF THE YEAR!

Then just last Wednesday I was greeted by my beloved sons coming through the door. Instead of their regular chorus, I was lifted from my seat by Second Born Son’s blood curdling scream. Sobs and snot later, and we find out that just before he opened the door, he wrenched his arm badly and it is sensitive to the touch. He finally calms enough to tell me how much pain he’s in, and that he heard a “pop”. I’m thinking dislocated shoulder. Hooo-ray.

We get to emerg and the one doctor I never want to see again is on call. He ignores me and tentatively pokes at SBS. He says it looks like muscle damage, possibly a ligament. If’ it’s not better in two days, get an ultrasound, he said. We get a sling, instructions to make sure he takes it off to keep the muscles in the arm moving, and a hasty exit.

But my Mommy Sense is tingling. I don’t like what he said.

The next morning, I call my GP and he gets us in Friday afternoon. The upper arm/shoulder area is almost doubled in size. He advises to go ahead with the ultrasound, but suggests we add an X-ray.

Today we get into the first booking we can for an ultrasound, and the technician starts with the X-ray. We don’t need an ultrasound, because the first image tells the tale.

“It’s broke,” she said. I check myself – not going to lose my load this time am I??

NO.

Not only is it broken, but we have a complication and have to see a specialist. As the doctor reading the x-ray goes over the various possibilities, I find myself having a completely different conversation – with myself. It is harsh and rather one-sided.

“He’s gone five days with a broken arm. What the HELL kind of mother ARE you?”

“Why did I listen to the idiot doctor about taking the arm out of the sling??”

“It’s been almost a week and the best we could do for him was Children’s Advil!!!”

“Dear God, It’s Sarah. Can you take the broken arm from him and give it to me? Totally serious here, God!! Just let me get him home safely and you can do the arm!”

As sappy as I thought it was that my parents reacted the way they did when I was young, I realize that I’m no better worse. Looking at my child’s body when it is broken is easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The fierce reaction I have to it, and the anger I direct at myself, is nothing short of primal. Your typical Momma Bear syndrome.

So it looks like I need to cut my parents some slack…

…and hope my kids do the same for me.

Yup, I brought him along for garbage picking. I'm tellin' ya, I've got a a spot on the mantel for my Mother Of The Year trophy!!!!

Taking A Moment

I had a very funny post planned for today. But I’m afraid I’m not up to funny right now.

We have lost a dear friend. A neighbour of 18 years who was more than the person who lived next door. She was the first person to come see me in the hospital to see our babies, aside from immediate family members. She was the first person to care for First Born Son outside of family. She LOVED every minute of it.

So today, I’m going to take a moment for her. And her family. And her husband.

I wonder about the logic behind taking someone so young – as 57 is far from old. I question how someone can fight and fight and then fight once more – only to lose the battle. I scratch my head as I look around at people who not only don’t give more to this world, but take away from it. She gave so much to so many. She had so much more to give – and would have given it willingly.

Then I sit back and realize none of us gets out of this alive. We will all meet the same fate one way or another. There is a message here – you just have to be still enough to listen for it.

It is grace. Strength. Passion. A woman who could have left this earth last autumn not only persevered, but thrived. She made it to her son’s wedding in February. She WALKED down the aisle, casting aside the wheelchair provided for her. She DANCED at that wedding, after giving a speech to her son and new daughter-in-law. She was the definition of what we can overcome with Faith and Love.

The Human Spirit is a gift from God.

And we are so glad you are free to be with Him tonight.

Letters That Need to Be Written – Part III

Dear Ashley Kirilow, Dina Perouty-Leone, Keele Maynor, Jessica Vega, Christopher Gordon and Jessica Leeder,

I would like to say you are isolated outcasts of society; that you are loathsome examples of humanity. But the sad fact is, when I type in “cancer patient hoax” you are but six of more than 6.2 MILLION possible internet hits.

I wish I had the vocabulary to effectively articulate, without resorting to profanity, the disgust I feel. Between you, you have duped friends, family, spouses, and kind-hearted individuals, many of whom sympathized with you because they themselves have had Cancer touch their lives.

Repulsive.

What kind of self-centred egomaniac looks to draw attention to themselves in this way? Do you honestly feel the love and support given to someone battling Cancer is something to envy? Covet? You can’t accomplish something positive with the health you are blessed with?

Obscene.

You have used the title of leukaemia, stomach cancer or breast cancer, to justify your crimes. You have lied through word and deed. You played on the heart strings of good people. One of you even convinced your boyfriend you were dying to get him to marry you. Flowers were donated, the wedding was paid for by family and friends. Your honeymoon was free.

Evil.

Back in the day, charlatans travelled from town to town, duping innocents into buying miracle cures and snake water. They would take money and flee, leaving their victims disillusioned and poorer. You are no better. In fact, you are a couple of rungs lower on the ladder, because you actually feel you can pass yourselves off as victims.

Reprehensible.

Aside from the vitriol you so richly deserve from the media exposure that has now turned on you, I hope you are haunted for the rest of you life by the images of truly sick people. Cancer has a legacy of pain and loss for those left behind.

You deserve no better.

Sweet Sixteen

When my niece M&M was born, she was about a month early. Things were very touch and go for both her and my sister during her delivery. It was rather dramatic and very fast. Twice I was told that there was a chance that I might not have a niece, or a sister.

Praying was involved.

M&M arrived in the afternoon on April Fool’s Day.

My sister refused to name her daughter until she saw her. I was pushy enough to go down to the ICU and video this tiny baby in her incubator, hooked up to wires and tubes, and then return to my sister’s bedside to play it back for her. My parents held her. I held her, and even The Big Guy held her, before her mother could.

The days that followed were pretty tricky. Being such a small premie, my sister was advised there could be some issues for M&M down the road. We just prayed that we could get her home quickly. M&M never suffered the delays the doctors cautioned about. She has thrived from the day she came home from the hospital.

M&M is the first grandchild for my parents. She was always tough kid, to the point that she has sustained rather serious injuries and never uttered a moan never mind crying. She loves animals, sports and her little sister. She is on Team Jacob. She is selfless and sweet, with her own stubborn streak that I’m sure she comes by honestly.

This year, she turns 16. Little Sister decided M&M needed a Sweet Sixteen party. So she surprised her!

She doesn't wear glasses. She "surprised" us with these!

LS recruited M&M’s best friend to lure her to the hall where the party was being held. Before you know it, she was in the door, and we were screaming “SURPRISE!”

Which resulted in this….

Face covering - M&M code for "Crying".

A room full of people. Family and friends. Food and drink. Decorations and….. A BAND?!?!

<PAUSE> I’d like to offer a little sidebar here on what MY 16th Birthday was like.

  • we had pizza.
  • we watched Top Gun on VHS.
  • when I say “we” I mean my family and my best friend.

No band. No hall. No party. Just in case you are looking for comparisons…

<PLAY>

LS wanted something special for M&M and asked me to put together a photo presentation. It made sense because I’ve taken the lion’s share of photos of just about everyone in this family. However, ironically, I’m the only person left in the Western Hemisphere who has never used Power Point before. SOOOO after several hours of online tutorials, swearing, hair pulling and the overwhelming desire to throw my Mac through the patio doors, I had something that was “presentable.”

M&M 16TH

In spite of the bathtub shot, the buck tooth shot, and just about every shot of her in a costume, M&M is still talking to me. She actually LIKED it!

So far the evening was a huge hit, but LS being who she is, wanted ANOTHER surprise, so she did this to us….

Which resulted in a great deal of snot and tears for those of us watching. If you had told me last fall that not only would my father be alive, but he’d be dancing, I would never have believed you.

But we did a lot of praying then too.

The Bubba Guy

The Big Guy has left me.

He says he’ll be back in two days.

Damn training.

What a perfect time to share a Big Guy story! That’ll teach em….

When I met The Big Guy he was 6’2+ and about 175 lbs. Pretty lean. By the time we got married, he was 185 lbs. Still very trim. I won’t tell you how much I weighed when we got married, but suffice it to say, I exploded after the birth of two kids. I never had to diet before, so being in my mid 20s and learning how to control my diet was a big deal. His weight never changed, which was frustrating as I tackled losing baby weight times two.

The Big Guy was very supportive. NOT. It wasn’t that he didn’t want me to lose weight, he just didn’t understand the concept. Because I didn’t feel I should deprive the household, I would still bake and have treats in the house. I just wouldn’t have any. And then I’d have to fend off The Big Guy, who would constantly offer to cut me a piece of cake, pie or square and then feign surprise when I stated that I “couldn’t” eat it.

Such support….

He still doesn’t understand why I don’t partake in dessert following each meal and why there are still two unopened boxes of chocolates on the counter from Christmas.

Uh, mainly because I DON’T want to staring down 200 lbs again!!??

So I was less than sympathetic when he came home with news the other day. He’d just come home from a physical with our new doctor, for which he was LONG overdue.

“Did you know they weigh you every time you go in for an appointment?” he asked.

“Yup,” I replied, thinking that I was pretty sure I’d mentioned this to him already.

“Well the nurse told me I was 192.7 lbs!” he exclaimed. “CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?”

<PAUSE> In fairness, I had noticed The Big Guy was a little Big-ger, but it certainly wasn’t a bad thing. We had argued at Christmas that he was not a Large but an Extra Large, and I was listening when he was telling me that his pants were fitting tighter. His new job has him tied to a desk or his truck most of the time. Then there is the whole age vs. metabolism debate. Did I think it was a problem? Nope. Would I have told him if I thought it was? Jury is still out on that…. <PLAY>

So the weight conversation lasted a while, with The Big Guy fearing this was the top of the slippery slope that sees him ending up as the Human Pear; a tall man with a gut out front and long thin legs. As I choose my words carefully, I offer a couple of suggestions.

“We’ll walk together at least once a week!” I offer.

“Can you believe that? 192.7 LBS!” he replies.

“Maybe you’ll have to start watching what you eat.” I suggest.

“I’ve never been 192.7 lbs in my entire life!” he exclaims.

“You know, we’re talking about seven pounds,” I point out.

“I KNOW! SEVEN POUNDS!” he nearly faints.

I remove myself from the conversation for two reasons. One, because he obviously needs to come to terms with this unmitigated shock he’s just experienced.

And two, because he can’t possible get his head around the fact that what he’s gained is less weight than either of his sons that I gave birth to.

A Conversation with Myself

It was an innocent enough question.

“Uh, so what is your age now?” she asked. A light little voice with a Romanian accent.

“I’m 40,” I reply.

“Ah,” she breathes. Now I’m worried. She ever so delicately asks me what skin products I use and what my routine is. She then asks me if I have any products for Mature Skin. I have dry, sensitive skin which is the BEST skin EVER if you want to age prematurely. All I need is a heaping helping of leathery skin from OD’ing on sunbathing and it’s the perfect storm of old lady skin. She’s giving me advice, every so kindly, about taking care of myself; making sure I have the right products; the proper routine and regimen.

Here we go….

I’m laying in the dark with lovely, relaxing Nature Music playing. Little Sister has started the two-part process of covering the greys. My head is now turbaned and I’m getting a variety of lotions and potions applied to my skin. One feels like water, the next feels like Jell-O before it sets. I get a mask and a neck and shoulder massage before my little European friend leaves me alone in the dark while the mask seals on to my skin.

Vanity is not a tolerated characteristic in my family. Look good, yes. “Maintain” yourself? Who do you think you are? My big indulgence is the dye job (sorry Little Sister – “colouring”) but my nails aren’t always done. I give my own manicures and pedicures, mostly in the summer time when they are exposed. LS and I have talked about me going grey, since that’s what my hair has had in mind since I was 19. So I’m starting to think, why fight fate?

But as I lay in the dark I start a conversation….with myself.

“This feels SO good! I really need to do this more often!”

“Really?? You have the time to come down here and get all pampered and primped for most of a day once a month!?”

“But I think it’s good for me! This is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time!”

“That’s great, but where are your priorities?”

“Well I try to take care of everyone else, why can’t I take a break for me too?”

“Really?! Sounds rather self-indulgent!”

“If a doctor told me I had to take something for my body’s health, I’d do it. What’s so different about my skin?”

“Vanity.”

“I’m NOT being vain!”

“Sure sounds like it!”

You get the idea. I focus on the babbling brook running through down through the speakers and into my head. So much better than my inner voice.

In my truck on the way home – with a jar of moisturizer beside me, the second chapter of the conversation begins. But it includes the information given to me by my new little friend – the magician who makes me look fresher, if not slightly puffy from spending two hours flat on my back in the middle of the afternoon.

“I’m going to do this! I’m going to start taking care of myself.”

“Of COURSE you are.”

“Well, you know what? She told me it’s easier to start taking care of myself now, than it is in 10 years when things REALLY start to slide.”

“Next you are going to be shooting crap into your face.”

“NO that’s GROSS!”

“Well then you’ll end up with surgery.”

“I don’t want plastic surgery!!”

“Ah! You want a nose job!”

“Well that’s different – it’s a genetic thing!! It’s a brutal nose.”

“And your eyes?”

“Well I’m convinced I’m going to wake up one day and won’t be able to open my eyes – and I can thank my father for that too!!! Freakin’ droopy eyelids! You know WHAT?? I don’t want to CHANGE myself, I just want to TAKE CARE of myself.”

“Sounds like justification to me….”

At this point I turn up the radio and sing, because honestly, how does one end an argument with one’s self?

One books next month’s appointment…..

Top 10 Things You Should Never Say to Someone with Cancer

As you now know, my father was diagnosed with Cancer earlier this year. Over these past 8 months, it has been a battle that too many people have become familiar with. My mother-in-law lost her fight the day after Dad’s surgery and within the past three years we’ve also lost an uncle and a cousin.

Suffice it to say, we have A LOT of experience on what is helpful and what is not when it comes to support. I consider it my service to humanity to offer the following:

10 THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY TO SOMEONE WITH CANCER, OR THEIR FAMILY

1. “Don’t do the surgery. They’ll open you up and it will spread!” – I’m pretty sure that’s not how Cancer spreads, and your paranoia will only incite further paranoia. How is that helpful?

2. “There’s no point in doing the Chemo/Radiation/treatment.” I’d love to see your credentials in the medical field, or anything other than hearsay, because, again, putting the Fear of God in someone who is already stressed, isn’t really a great idea. The suggestion is that treatment is in vain, that the Cancer will return anyway. How is this productive? Millions of people beat Cancer every year. Don’t you want this person to be one of those people?

3. “Have you heard of the Broccoli/Sunshine/Herbal treatment?” You know what, just see Number 2…..

4. “My mother/father/uncle/aunt/son/daughter/dog/mailman had that kind of Cancer and two weeks after they saw the doctor, they were gone.” What exactly are you trying to accomplish with a terrifying statement like that? Cancer isn’t scary enough, you need to worry them that they have less time than they think they do?? I mean, come on.

5. “Jane Doe is suffering from Cancer.” My issue with this is the word “suffering“. When you are told to be strong, fight, find the courage and stay positive, the word “suffering” is one of the most damaging words you could utter. Try, “Jane Doe has been diagnosed with Cancer.” or  even, “Jane Doe is battling Cancer.” So much more empowering, don’t you think?

6. “You look so GOOD!” I have yet to see someone battling Cancer who actually looks “good”. If anything, you make the individual self conscious and the internal conversation is something like this….

“Dear God, they think I look good when I look like THIS? I looked good when I had my hair, my eye lashes, my appetite, 40lbs more. I look like shit and now I feel even WORSE.”

7. “Oh my, you don’t look so good today!” It’s better to say nothing at all than to make a statement about personal appearance. This is someone who is walking through Hell for their life – are they supposed to have a “good” day? I mean, really…..

8. “Oh you poor dear!” This gem is usually reserved for family members – and when its the kids, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. Try “I bet you are a great help for your Poppa!” or “I will keep all of you in my thoughts and prayers.” Conveys the same intent without the implication of hollow sympathy.

9. “What can I do to help?” I bet you don’t see the issue with this one, do ya? The problem is that the person you are asking this of has a tornado of stress, drama and information swirling in their heads. They are grateful to remember to bathe, never mind make a To Do list. You are asking them to sort through their upside down life and come up with a custom list of tasks you would be suited to do. Why not say, “Can I help drive?” “May I drop off a casserole?” “Can I cut your grass?” These are specific tasks that the care giver or patient can look at and say “yes” or “no” rather than generate a task to assign you. Don’t be offended if they don’t agree to your suggestions. You have opened the door with a genuine offer, and in a still moment, when they have collected their thoughts, they may remember your kind offer. Then your phone may ring.

10. “You better get checked out!” While this comment is likely to be well intended, it’s usually unnecessary and if anything, causes more anxiety. When my mother-in-law was ailing, the last thing her sons needed was to be reminded that they might face the same fate. Don’t get me wrong, they were more than aware that the Cancers she battled can be passed genetically, but they didn’t need that stress adding to the concern they already had for her, and their father.

In conclusion, while many people think they are showing concern and empathy by asking these questions, it’s a case of the void between what is being said, and what is being heard. Remember that the best way to show your interest and support is to ask simple, short questions, void of overt emotion. Perhaps you’ll catch them in a moment where they will want to share their thoughts and feelings. They aren’t looking for answers. They don’t expect you to have a solution. The fact is, their reality is overwhelming in that moment, and they need to release the backlog.

Be an ear. Not a mouth.