12 Tips for Cancer Patients

1) You are sick. You have an incurable disease. You are in the fight of your life. All the happy images of cancer you’ve seen on TV? Forget them.

2) You will be tired. You will be sad. You will be irritable. You will feel guilty for being a bad parent/friend/coworker.

3) You will feel lazy and unfocused. You will find that your old interests now seem like chores.

4) You will hear lots and lots of advice on how to beat cancer. Unless that advice is coming from an oncologist, ignore it.

5) You will make people nervous. You will lose some friends. You will miss them.

6) You will miss yourself. You will miss the life you had before cancer.

7) You will make new friends. You may not love them the way you loved your old friends. You may not even like them. But you will find comfort in the way they look you in the eyes.

8) You will wonder why “support” doesn’t feel very supportive.

9) You will be afraid — really afraid — perhaps for the first time in your life. You will feel like you’re sleepwalking in a nightmare.

10) You will read about the five stages of grief, but you will reject them. You will conclude that grief is not linear, but circular.

11) You will dig in your heels. You will entertain the notion that you can stand your ground against cancer. But after you’ve seen a few friends die, you will begin to understand what our ancestors knew too well: We have little control over the forces of nature.

12) You might get lucky. I did. But no matter what happens, you will find peace. Not acceptance, because nothing about cancer is acceptable. Peace, because you still have life, and where there’s life, there’s love.

Giulietta Masina in the famous final two minutes of Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria.” When she begins her long walk, she’s a hooker who has just lost everything. Buona sera…

About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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12 Responses to 12 Tips for Cancer Patients

  1. Sheri swaner says:

    Thank you for this, Donna.
    The words, the list, truly describe how Scott felt.
    It is so similar to the words he wrote in his blog and journal.

    I can only look and write about how his cancer and eventual
    death made me feel, (an outsider looking in).
    I wouldn’t dare presume I knew how ‘he felt.

    He was the one facing death-
    No matter how close I was to him,
    I still don’t know what it fully feels like to be a cancer patient.

    I love your writing and what you choose to write about.
    And, I adore Mary Chapin Carpenter.

    She also wrote a song about “outside looking in.”
    Great minds.

    Loves and Best wishes for you Always,


  2. Thank you Sheri. :)

    Sometimes I write about cancer because I’m watching friends struggle. Sometimes it’s because I want to caution myself not to take my remission for granted. Sometimes a little of both.

    Mary Chapin Carpenter has the mind and heart of a poet and fiction writer. Been a fan for a long time.

  3. kinziblogs says:

    Donna, this was great…heart-felt and highly practical. Although mine was ‘cancer-lite’ (stage 2 thyroid) it was still life-changing. Continues to change life. Thx 2 much!

  4. Thank you kinziblogs.

    When I was first diagnosed with cancer and had a look at my survival statistics, I was terrified. I went on an ovarian cancer survival board, and I remember one woman who said even though she was stage Ia (not stage III like me) she went through every single emotion I described.

    At the time I didn’t understand, since I would have done anything to have her cancer instead of my own. But now I think I do.

  5. Tabbie says:

    Your words are wise and they come from the kindness and the truth within your heart.

  6. Thank you Tabbie for your kind words. And for the absolutely perfect photograph.

  7. John Mark Eberhart says:

    Donna, you are amazing, as usual. If I may — 12 tips for cancer caregivers (hate that word — let’s just say friends and family of cancer patients):

    1. You are NOT sick. No matter how understanding you think you are, you can’t comprehend this disease till it is IN YOU.

    2. You, too, will be tired, sad. Remember: No matter how bad you feel, your spouse/parent/child/friend feels worse.

    3. You will find your chores crowd out your old interests. If you truly love the person, you won’t care much.

    4. You will hear lots of advice on how to care for someone with cancer. 99.9 percent of it is nonsense.

    5. You, too, will lose friends. Especially the ones who look for blessings on your behalf as you watch your loved one suffer or die. Cut ’em loose — those kinds of friends, that is.

    6. You will miss the person you knew before that person had cancer. It will break your heart. But that person’s changes will not all be sorrowful. Find the bonds between the two of you that have been and will remain.

    7. You will not have much time for making new friends. You are taking care of a person who is sick or dying. Your time with them will range from horribly difficult to a closeness you thought you might never know.

    8. You will question whether the “support” you are providing is enough. Most of the time, it is enough to give all you can. Other times, the very limits of your abilities, your giving, will not be enough to ease the pain for the person you love. It’s cancer. No other word hurts so much.

    9. You will be afraid, too, but your fear never can be the same as the fears harbored by the one you love. Cancer patients are afraid they will die. People who care for cancer patients are afraid they will LIVE — on and on and on, if the patient does die. These are two different terrors. From the moment you realize this, cancer has driven a wedge between the two of you that never can be overcome entirely. Let the wedge be the wedge. Let your love abide.

    10. Whether your loved on lives or dies, you will grieve. There is anticipatory grief, and yes, those other “stages.” They’re not stages. You’re not standing on any one of those stages at any given time, performing. The grief comes in waves. Watch the ocean sometime; waves overlap, converge, separate. In the ocean, this is beautiful. In your head, it’s torment.

    11. Your loved one’s cancer will teach you that every illusion of control you ever have entertained is falsehood.

    12. Peace? Peace is relative. Whether your loved one lives or dies, you are now a damaged person. Pain evolves. Peace can come. Time will be your enemy at first. If you’re lucky, you will make friends with it. Be careful not to rush yourself:

    “No matter where I am,
    I can’t help thinking
    I’m just a day away
    from where I want to be…

    It’s so hard to come by,
    that feeling of peace.
    This friend of mine said,
    “Close your eyes
    and try a few of these.”
    I thought I was flying like a bird,
    so far above my sorrow,
    but when I looked down,
    I was standing on my knees.
    Now I need someone to help me,
    someone to help me please.”

    — Jackson Browne, “Your Bright Baby Blues.”

    Don’t be afraid to ask for help — during, and, if there’s an after, after. I wrote this after — in memory of my wife, Sherri L. Eberhart: Jan. 20, 1961-Oct. 13, 2008.

  8. Brilliant. Thank you, John Mark, for shedding light on the twin misfortune of watching a loved one suffer with this terrible disease.

  9. naush says:

    I am speechless, both of you, Donna and John have written from the heart. Thank you so much.

    There are things that I already feel, while I realized that there are things that I will probably feel, at a later stage. Just beautiful to see it written so whole heartedly.

    Thank you


  10. burntsienna says:

    This is a fantastic entry! Thanks for articulating all of that.

    Thank you for the link to my page, I only just noticed. I’ve had to temporarily take my site down, but as the post you linked gets the most hits, I still have that one up.

  11. pasang says:

    dear donna,you have very beautiful mind and heart…i am a nurse at oncology hospital and i know how it feel when you have diagnosed with such disease.every day i see a patient who are suffering from deadly canerous diseases and it makes me feel sad.every day i do give care to them but when i return to my room i would never able to sleep in peace,i do pray to those patients who are going via this phases.hope and pray for all and those who have their loved one support and give care as much as you can..peace
    with regards

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