Seven days after my husband and I moved to Atlanta upon our return from our honeymoon, I was diagnosed with late-stage melanoma. I was worried, but hopeful.
Three years later, the battle continues, and I remain confident, calm and victorious.
When someone finds out about my situation, they’re usually shocked. I don’t look sick, and I don’t act sick. I’m not depressed, and most of the time, I’m not sad. But I’m also not naive nor am I in denial. I’m just happy.
It can be hard to know what to do or say if you know someone with cancer or another major disease. Do you bring it up? Do you ignore it completely? How do you offer comfort without reminding them of their pain?
Here are a few practical non-spiritual tips for how to interact treat people with dealing with cancer and other major diseases (hint: the concept of treating others as you would want to be treated goes a long way here). And for those with disease, here are a few practices that can contribute to overall well being. While almost all of my joy comes from my life with Jesus, I do practice a few daily rituals that help maintain my joy.
1. Don’t ignore it, but don’t focus on it
If you find yourself around someone with a visible ailment, it’s almost equally annoying to completely ignore it or to only talk about that one aspect of their life. Don’t play dumb and pretend you don’t see it, causing the entire encounter to have awkward tension. You can ask it about it politely and then move right along. It’s something we deal with every day.
And for those of you with cancer, keep your eyes off of whatever visible “proof” exists of your disease. For me, it’s been visible tumors in my right leg. It’s definitely not easy to avoid looking down or give it a quick glance while I’m changing clothes or showering, but it’s worth developing the habit of not looking at it.
It is imperative that we are confident in the fact that we are the masters of our bodies, not the cancer or whatever disease you might be facing. Staring at it (whether literally or figuratively) every day feeds fear and anxiety and, frankly, is a complete waste of time.
2. Stop trying to fix it
We appreciate your concern, but we don’t need you to email us every bit of information you read or tell about the latest craze diet that is supposed to cure all disease. We have designated people to do that for us, so unless you’re 100 percent positive we need to know, your job is to love, support and continue to be who you’ve always been.
For you with disease, stay off Google. We all know this, but few actually do it. But seriously, sitting down at your computer to “research” rarely leads to your medical breakthrough. In reality, it just gives you more reasons to fear and fewer reasons to be hopeful.
Find someone in your house to hold you accountable. If you live alone or with family members who aren’t strong enough (mentally) to do it, go get one of those child-monitoring programs and have your Internet history emailed to someone who will.
3. Use your words carefully
While I was visiting extended family over the holidays a few years ago, a woman whom I had never met approached up to me and said, “I heard about your cancer. My father had melanoma.”
While pretty taken back this was how she chose to introduce herself, I politely said, “Oh, I’m sorry about that. I know it’s not easy. I hope he’s doing well.” She replied blatantly, “Oh, he died. But I’m sure they have better treatment now.”
You’re probably aware that this type of response is not appropriate, much less helpful. But sometimes when someone mentions their disease, you might be tempted to try to relate to them by telling them about someone you know who has suffered because of it or any bits of information you know.
We don’t mind talking about our situation. Really, we don’t. We just don’t want your emotions to affect ours so please, use your words carefully. Pity is not compassion, so when it is provoked, it usually just breeds hopelessness and self-pity: two emotions those fighting disease need to stay far away from.
For those with disease, the best way to guard yourself from incidents like this is probably to not bring up details of your condition around people you don’t know well. Unless you really trust the person you’re talking to, the details aren’t needed in conversation, especially if your situation is severe.
4. Help your friend give their mind a break
If you’re planning a dinner party and wondering if you should invite your sick friend, DO IT. We still want to be included in social gatherings, girls or guys nights, or whatever event all our friends are going to. We can always say no if we aren’t up to it, but at least still extend the invite.
In many ways, dealing with having a disease such as cancer is much harder emotionally than physically. Every day, all day, our minds are reminded that despite how normal our lives may seem, it is there. It’s hard to avoid. It’s part of TV shows, the news and of course, social media.
Consequently, finding an outlet is absolutely essential to maintaining your mental peace. I try to find an hour or so a day to just detach and do something that does not remind me of cancer. Maybe it’s baking, reading a magazine, watching some dumb reality show on TV or wandering through Target.
Along the same lines, avoid sad music and movies. This goes for both friends and family and those dealing with cancer: If you don’t know the premise of a movie, “Wiki” it and find out. While watching a movie that involves a plot line about someone dying of cancer may not be a big deal to others, it can be a huge discouragement and bad reminder for those with a major disease and those around them.
All in all, your friend dealing with cancer or another major disease is still the friend you’ve always known. We want to talk about it, but not all the time. We’re going to grieve, and you don’t have to feel like you have to fix it, make it all better or offer a solution. And still we want to be invited along and included in your life.
Mallory Cruz lives in Atlanta with her husband, Kyle, and new baby girl, Lilian. She's passionate about Jesus, marriage, freedom and culture and spends a lot of time writing for her blog, mallorycruz.com.