When I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I was very selective in who I told. Sharing that kind of news was just not something I was comfortable with at all. I wasn’t comfortable with the news so how could I share it with anyone else? But those I did confide in were, for the most part, amazing. They offered love, support, kindness and compassion. It took me two years before I felt comfortable enough with my disease to get on Facebook and make “the big announcement.” I did it by posting a link to an article I wrote that was published in the Chicago Tribune. My secret was finally out. I often wonder why it took me so long and I think I have it. I knew that I would not succumb to myeloma. I was going to fight and fight hard and I would win the battle one way or another. My resolve was so strong and I refused to see fear or doubt in anyone’s eyes. I refused to hear anything well-meaning but actually harmful. So I stayed mum until I was in a better place physically and emotionally. Was it the right way to handle it? I don’t know. And I’m certainly not advocating that anyone else follow my lead. But if you’re on the other side of the cancer story – like you’re the friend, family member or trusted confidante of a cancer warrior – knowing what to say and how to react can be tough. Universally, however, there are a few things you should probably avoid saying, like…
- If you have faith, God will heal you.
- It was probably ---fill in the blank/lifestyle related--- (i.e. the meat, not exercising enough, drinking in college, you name it).
- The relationship with your –fill in the blank/person --- (i.e. husband, child, parent, employer) caused it.
- How much longer do you have?
- I know how you feel.
- It will all be okay.
- Stay positive. If you know you will win this battle, you will.
- Be strong.
- Are your affairs in order?
- Congratulations, you did it! (as in, you’re all done with treatment – hooray!)
The best thing one can do for someone fighting cancer is to help. I know, at least for me, I was overwhelmed, not feeling well and exhausted much of the time. I didn’t let on because I didn’t want to scare those around me. So I usually looked like a felt better than I actually did. That was my coping skill and probably not the best decision. But nothing was more heaven-sent than the unexpected dinner that showed up on our doorstep, or the friends who would pick up my daughters and take them out for the evening, or help with doing my laundry. I loved it when people treated me normally. Going to dinner or a movie or anywhere and talking about life (or anything besides cancer, treatments, medications and appointments) was terrific. It was then that I felt “normal.” And that was the best feeling in the world. It still is.
about the author
Lizzy Smith was diagnosed with myeloma in 2012 at age 44. Within days, she left her job, ended her marriage, moved, and entered treatment. "To the extent I'm able, I want to prove that despite life's biggest challenges, it is possible to survive and come out stronger than ever," she says.