People are funny about cancer. Some people with cancer are funny. What’s not funny is cancer itself. Since I was diagnosed with recurrent melanoma a couple of months ago, I’ve observed a few things about how people respond to the news that I have cancer (or had cancer, depending on how you look at it). Some of these reactions actually make me laugh:
1. The cursers. I put them first because their reaction is closest to mine when told by my GP that I had a “troublesome” CT. I’ll spare the expletives, but several are colorful. It would be nice if we could literally curse cancer, and send it straight to hell. Instead, some of us have to burn it out with chemicals with our bodies being the test tube. Yes, that’s a s----y deal.
2. The internalizers. Some people hear the news, and immediately call their dermatologist. They thank me for the reminder that they need to have their moles checked. I’m glad to be of service this way.
3. The empathizers. Several people I know have a natural gift for simply being present, and listening. Some of them have had serious illnesses of their own, or have been close to people who have. I’m fortunate to have friends and family members among this group. They are welcome to drink my merlot any time.
4. The deniers. Cancer is purely an abstraction for some people, or they can’t admit to it being real, so they spout platitudes about the great cures available these days, or how their Uncle Jack was diagnosed with throat cancer 17 years ago and he’s still kicking. Their fear seems to be that acknowledging cancer might somehow make it contagious.
5. The ignorers. These people are deniers par excellence. They simply don’t call, write or visit. They simply disappear. I understand that it’s hard for some people to know what to say. To them I suggest, “Hey, I just got back from a cruise to Antarctica. So what’s new in your life?”
6. Everyone else. Most of the people I know have been great: sometimes vulnerable, occasionally poignant, often helpful, usually cheery and encouraging, and appreciatively normal. Like me, they assume the best without denying the possibility of the worst. Normal people don’t welcome serious threats to their health or the health of others, but they also understand that bad stuff happens. Cancer is no comedy act, but people sure are.