Thursday, June 25, 2009


One of my really good friends just called and told me she has cancer. Non hodgkins lymphoma. She doesn't know anything yet, just that she has it. She goes in to find out what's next tomorrow morning.
We talked for about an hour and the entire time I tried to stay upbeat because she said it was really hard on her when the people she had told so far got emotional and told her she would be okay. So I tried to let her know I was here for her and joked and talked about her boyfriend (who has suddenly decided that he's not sure he can handle being with her and I swear to GOD I might drive to fucking Pennsylvania and rip his puny little balls right off of him). And the whole time I kept thinking - Shit. Am I going to do the cancer equivalent of telling her to just relax? Am I going to make an inappropriate joke and upset her? Why did I just tell her I signed up to the bone marrow registry as though that means a goddamn thing? What the fuck do I say when all I want to do is wail to the Gods that this is NOT OKAY.
Sorry to unload this here, but I had to get it out. I started bawling after we hung up and needed to get out my rage. I'm supposed to go visit in August. We're going to a baseball game. I don't know if there is anything I can do until then. Anyone ever have cancer? Is there something you would have liked to receive in the mail? Stupid things I should refrain from saying? Anything?

Edit: And Michael Jackson is dead? I feel like I am swimming underwater. This day is not real.


  1. that is terrible... i am so sorry. it sounds like you were amazing on the phone with her. being real and present with someone when they are going through cancer is so important. being someone they don't have to take care of not upsetting and who can joke and be real with i'm sure is a big support. being there even when she says she doesn't need it, and letting her be as big a mess as she needs to be and not getting scared off seems like a good place to start. it is like the one good friend i have who is NOT trying to get pregnant, but always asks me how i am doing, what i am struggling with and how i am feeling now that i have enough morning sickness to fell an elephant... she asks in such a way that makes it clear she is truly present with me - not in that are you pregnant yet or are you all a-glow yet kind of way. i LOVE her for it. she is down for the good, the bad and the really ugly. - sorry for the novel.

  2. Oh Io, that totally sucks. I'm so sorry hon. I have not had cancer, but have dealt closely with a lot who have. The best thing to do is find someone to support and listen to you, so you can support and listen to her. Every person deals with cancer differently, she may want to talk about it and other days she may not. The good thing is that Non Hodgkins Lymphoma is highly curable if found early. I know several long-term (15 + years) of that type of cancer. Hugs darling.

  3. Oh and what Mulberry says - ditto!

  4. I love the title, but ugh! I'm sorry! I hate it when people bail on others when they are most needed. I guess you really find out who your friends are in bad times.

    It's good you can be there for her. I don't have cancer, and haven't really been close with anyone who has. I imagine it's kind of like infertility, only in the sense that you just want to be sensitive.

  5. I'm so sorry. That freakin blows.

    I think all the things that we'd like fertile people to do for us IFers basically applies with everything in life.

    Send cards, send books, send CD mixes. It's ok for you to be upset and for your friend to know that too. You can tell her this effing sucks, but it's also important for you to help her remember, as you've been doing, that she is more than a chick with cancer, just like we all need to know that we are more than our IF.

  6. I agree with your title...and I think the best thing you can do for your friend is just what everyone else has said. Be there, be honest, and listen a lot. And, hey, if she's that kind of friend, make inappropriate jokes too.

    I wish her the best.

  7. oh fuck
    I am so so sorry for the news from your friend.

  8. holy crapola.

    my brother-in-law's best friend had cancer a few years ago and i just felt dumb when i was around her. now that she's completely recovered (i think that she had the same cancer as your friend), she jokes about it! for her 30th birthday she dressed up as "cancer girl" and had a huge party.

    i would definitely tell her that you are prepared to support her in any way. just knowing that you're there for her will make her feel better.

    and yes, mj and farrah in one day! holy crap!

  9. I'm so sorry about your friend. I think unless you've been through it you never really know the right thing to say. My husband had Hodgkins Lymphoma 15 years ago and I still don't know the right things to say.

  10. I'm really sorry about your friend, but you know that she isn't going to take it to heart if you accidentally say something you shouldn't. I have known several people with cancer in my life and I can't think of anything NOT to say that would be offending. I hope things turn out for the better for you friend. Hugs to both of you.

  11. I'm so sorry to hear this. When my dad had cancer the worst thing was when people didn't say anything. People often avoided talking to me. It felt better when people took an interest, wanted to spend time with us or just to let us know they'd be there to walk the dog, cook dinner, whatever. This certainly has been a messed up day.

  12. OMG- I got out of the shower this morning and H said, "Michael Jackson is dead." and I just about fell down. Sadly, with his oddities over the last several years, even though it was a shock, it wasn't surprising that his life would have lead him to this point. I mean, he's a pop star of the highest measure- their lives tend to end early and suddenly and in shocking circumstances (John Lennon, Elvis, etc.). But yes. What the fuck??? Sad day, indeed.

    A few hours after H got the news about the tenure-track business, he got the news that his friend Henry had been laid off. Again. In Germany, they will put you in to apprenticeship programs to get you trained in an area where there are lots of jobs. This is the second apprenticeship job at which he has not been able to gain steady employment and he's depressed and angry and all the things you should be when you are 40 years old and this is your 3rd career and you still can't get a steady job. Fuck.

    And I'm like you. I don't want to be all patronizing, and like, "You can do it! Everything will be fine!" because even the dullest of people can see straight through that shit.

    So. I mean, not like cancer is equivalent to job loss, but still- how do you deal delicately with someone who has shit news, crappy circumstances, etc., while being supportive but not patronizing? I don't really know.

    I like Mel's word for it- abiding. I think the best way is to just try to keep things working as close to normal as possible, while honoring the possible limitations that a sad circumstance can place on a person, but mostly just saying, with your presence, "I will still be here next to you tomorrow." (er, even if it is a long-distance "next to you" kind of thing).

    My dad is an odd sort of person, but he has had cancer twice now (and heart disease, etc.) and it has always pissed me off when I share that with people and they make light of it. My dad wouldn't have liked to have people making a big deal of it, so maybe people are reacting to that, but still- the gravity of the situation needs to be honored, while at the same time, not acting as though they are already dead.

    It's a thin line to tread. I wish I had better advice other than just telling her that no matter what, you will not (unlike her douchebag boyfriend) abandon her.

    That just sucks. Cancer is such a fucking fuckhole.

  13. I am so sorry. She is so fortunate to have you as a friend. Your worry about saying the right thing shows how sensitive you are to what she's going through. On a side note...the title of your post made me realize how much I've missed your posts and I chuckled...(that is until I read what it was about.)

  14. I don't have any advice...I just wanted to say I'm so sorry for you and your friend.

  15. Awful...well nothing whets anger-hormones of somebody as saying 'Just Relax'...I have no personal brush with cancer.

    One of my now-deceased favourite aunties had Cancer, and I choked up when I went to meet her in a hospital after a scare. She looked at me with so much love and empathy, that I had no words remaining to say to her. The best I guess is to understand the gravity and not let stupid invented words get in the way.

    Another uncle was lost to Cancer this year. Till the end, it was believed that he could scrape through and there had been a period of recovery before he went downhill again, and guess what humour kept him company. Family held hands, and mostly made sure that any of his wishes were met (if it did not affect his health).

    How cold and heartless of her boyfriend!

    Yes, MJ really is dead and so is Ms. Fawcett!

  16. Fuck, that fucking sucks. I'm so sorry, Io - for your friend who is facing this, and for you, too. It sounds like you are being a really good friend already - you are being there for her and being her friend just like you've always been. I haven't had cancer but one of my friends had cancer when we were in high school, and I think for her, it was important to be able to talk about how scared she was sometimes and not be told that it's all going to be ok. But at the same time, she needed us to just be normal with her and hang out and joke and just be together.

    Sounds like you're doing that just brilliantly - I'm sure your experience with IF has taught you a lot about what not to say. All the trite things that people say in a crisis are rarely helpful - you'll be ok, stay positive, just relax, I know somebody who did x and got pregnant/cured, etc. You know all this, my friend. You just need to take the time to process your own feelings about this - you're right that it is not okay. It is painful and scary and uncertain and it makes a person feel helpless like almost nothing else.

    Hang in there - I will be keeping you and your friend in my thoughts.

  17. Don't start talking about people you know (grandparents, etc) who have died from cancer.
    But even if you do, she'll probably forgive you.

  18. I am so sorry for your friend. :( I don't have any insight into the world of cancer, but I think your sensitivity to try to say the right thing will make all the difference.

    You might even consider sharing your concern with her, if you think she'll receive it okay. Like, "As an infertile, I often have to field well-intentioned but hurtful comments. I really hope I don't do that to you. I apologize in advance, and ask that you tell me if I upset you."

  19. I am so sorry, Io dear. Can I kick the dude after you do your deed? Sorry excuse for a man!

    I'm completely totally sure you'll be a wonderful support to your friend. The fact that you're worried about blowing off her concerns and fears and pain is already half the battle.

    I'm so glad to hear you're back in the blogosphere, and that the financial stuff is starting to turn around.

  20. I'm so sorry. I totally get the worrying that you'll do to her what's been done to you. I try to check myself all the time. Anymore, I just try to read what they seem to need and am just there for an ear. I don't try to make them feel what they don't seem to want to. Just let them feel it, or cheer them up if that's where they're leading me. Good luck hon.

  21. You're back!!!!! I'm so happy! ((hugs))

    I am so sorry about your friend, hun, I have no idea what to say. I had a brush with cancer once...but I actually WANTED to hear the "It's going to be ok" along with a huge sloppy hug thing. All I could do is cry and freak out and so I didn't mind people doing it along with me. =)

    You're friend sounds like she is much stronger than I. Perhaps you can own up to the fact that you really want to be helpful, but have no idea how and let her tell you what she needs?

    Sorry I'm so unhelpful.

  22. I'm so sorry for your friend. Even though you might feel like you're stumbling, I know that you'll be the best friend and support to her as possible.

  23. i don't think i can add anything to the great advice you've already gotten. i have only known 1 person with nhl & he survived a tumor the size of a grapefruit on his heart & is in full remission & doing fantastic today.

    i did want to say that i am so sorry for your friend & if you need me to kick her cowardly piece of shit boyfriends ass- i am already in pa. of course- it is a big state, but anywhere within an hour or 2 of philly is totally doable!

  24. Shit. I wish I had some good words of advice. Just be there for her. You're already ahead of most people when it comes to thinking about her feelings.