Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Reaching out to someone with cancer: just do it

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It is hard to know what to say to someone who has cancer. It's even harder if someone is in the process of dying from cancer. Reaching out can become big and complex and overwhelming. We fear not knowing what to say or what to do, or saying something that causes more pain.

In Anna Quindlen's novel, One True Thing, a novel about a mother's death from cancer, the main character narrates about how people stopped coming by to see them, calling, reaching out. The main character runs into one such friend of her mother's in the grocery store one day:

I could almost see the sentence forming in their mind before they could say it: "I've been meaning to stop by, but ..."...

When Mrs. Duane began to say that she'd been meaning to stop by, I looked into her clear blue eyes, the color of sky, wise and so aware of the duplicity of what she was saying that they darted away from my own, and without thinking I interrupted, "Then do it. Don't regret that you didn't. What she has is not catching."...

"No one has come to see my mother since the week before Christmas. She's lonely and she's sad and she thinks that everyone's forgotten her and all because it's too uncomfortable for anyone to deal with anything deeper than winter ski plans and shopping for dinner."

The next day Mrs. Duane called and asked if she could come over for lunch.

When in doubt, it's always better to reach out, even with just the smallest of gestures and even in the worst of circumstances.
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