I have a friend at work who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Once we hit a certain age, it seems like illnesses and health problems become more common, but not less worrisome. This guy is young, though- just 43. When he started to have unexplained weight loss, extreme exhaustion and a host of other persistent concerns, he knew that something was wrong. He has been tested for just about every illness under the sun for the past few months with no diagnosis. Meanwhile, his symptoms continued to worsen. Finally- thankfully- he knows what he is battling. Kidney cancer.
Now, the work and the life lessons begin. I understand because I had a couple of serious health situations several years ago. My traumas were not cancer, but my life was most definitely on the line. One of them left me in a coma for five days with major organs shutting down following a routine medical procedure that resulted in severe hemorrhaging. My dramas aren’t the focus of this post, though. The point of this is to share some of the lessons that I learned throughout my experiences.
When you have a serious health crisis, medical information comes flying at warp speed. It’s difficult to take it in while you’re also sifting through the emotional toll. Quite simply, it’s a lot all at once.
My friend and I have spent hours in his office with the door closed, not talking about medical procedures or tests. I opened up about my past brushes with mortality so that he would know that I get what’s going on in his head right now. I didn’t live around here during that period of my life, so he didn’t know my story. Now that he knows I’ve been there, he realizes he has an ally. We’ve been talking about the goodness of people and the feelings of gratitude. We’ve talked about ways to hang onto normal. We’ve talked about preparing for the possible reactions of his children. We’ve talked about life and how to do it while you’re wading through a health crisis.
Here are a few things that have come up in our chats that might be helpful if you find yourself in a similar trial in life:
- Keep a notebook. Write everything down. It is important to have the facts in one place to refer to at any point on your journey. This can be a great job for your partner who is probably looking for ways to help and support.
- Ask questions. Understanding the terms, procedures, and expectations will be crucial. If it doesn’t make sense, ask for it to be rephrased. Ask again and again until you fully comprehend it. Knowledge is power. It helps you to own the journey.
- Be careful with the internet. Yes, the internet is a valuable resource and a place that you’ll probably explore. Just use self-control with those Google searches. You need to get your information from the folks who truly know your case.
- People mean well. Truly, they mean well. When people share stories about their Great-uncle Harold’s terminal cancer or the time their neighbor had “exactly what you have” and died within 3 days, they’re just trying to connect with you. So, when the simple greeting of “how are you?” starts to come with that hard stare or ominous tone, it isn’t meant to be invasive. They just aren’t sure what to say. Lighten it up yourself- talk about the weather or the football game or the funny thing your kid did. You have the power to switch up the path of the conversation.
- You are worthy. It can be overwhelming to be on the receiving end of generosity. Those same people who say inappropriate things may also take up an office pool to contribute to your medical expenses. Friends will jump in to mow your lawn or take your kids for the day. Acquaintances will step up to take over your role on a committee or send a heartfelt message. Doctors, nurses, and medical staff will do amazing things on your behalf. Family members will show love beyond your wildest imagination. Strangers will donate blood that will give you life. Why? Because you are worthy. It’s that simple.
- You will wonder how to give back. My friend told me that he already knows this experience will alter his life. He had a conversation with his wife that he needs to do better and he hasn’t even had his surgery yet. I get it. During my crisis, I really struggled with the idea of gratitude. I couldn’t figure out how to express just how thankful I was for all of the gifts I received. I knew the medical staff was doing their job, but it kept me alive. I knew that donors chose to give blood, but how could I thank someone I would never know. I knew my friends and family wanted to be there for me, but how could I return the favor? I finally had an epiphany, of sorts. I had to pay it forward- to never forget the love I felt by sharing it as I moved through the rest of my journey.
Life can be tough sometimes. Life is also beautiful. It’s important to remember that, especially when we find ourselves walking through the valley. It really is beautiful.
***This post can also be found on my other blog: https://sharingthestairs.wordpress.com