Getting More Comfortable Talking About Cancer

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This past week, I had the distinct honor of driving and accompanying my friend during one of her days of chemotherapy at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick.  She goes to chemo every Thursday, which is the Institute’s breast cancer day.  While they have enough patients to fill a large area, the floor’s design breaks down the numbers with small pods of eight patients each, producing a surprisingly warm atmosphere. These patients often get to know each other, becoming knowledgeable about each other’s diagnoses; sometimes they prefer privacy and peace and keep their curtains drawn.  The patients are cared for by the same nurses each week so there is a great deal of familiarity and continuance of conversations that started during previous weeks.  Most seem to have friends, spouses/partners or children with them because it not only makes the time pass more quickly, but most patients cannot drive home after the treatments.

While I have talked about my friend in my previous “secrets” post, she continues to open my eyes to the details of cancer.  Right now, a big focus of hers is how to let other people know that she has breast cancer. She also discusses when she will wear her new wig or hats.  She worries about particular events – what if her wig makes her too hot when watching her kids’ sporting events? She even worries about her kids’ comfort level with her choice. They are amazing kids so I reminded her that they will not care what she wears!

It seems that she and many cancer patients worry about the rest of us. So maybe we can make things easier. If someone is wearing a hat, turban or scarf etc., perhaps this is a heads-up?  If someone looks tired or is rumored to be sick, we should all get over that hesitation or discomfort we often feel in broaching what could be an awkward conversation. Maybe at back-to-school night or at the next athletic event, we can all reach more outside of ourselves and sincerely ask people how they are doing and then listen more carefully to their responses!  The patients are the ones battling cancer and the effects of chemo and other treatments. They have real concerns and should never worry about the rest of us!