Life Redefined: When Words Have Meaning
After my cancer diagnosis and first surgery, I received a lot of stuff from a lot of people. Stuff is how people in this day and age convey they are thinking about you. I received clothes, books, magazines, movies, gift cards, lots of flowers, blankets, jello, pudding, and more jello. People brought meals over to me. People came to visit me. People brought me even more pudding. (As a sidenote, just because somebody has surgery does not mean they want a year’s supply of Snack Packs.) What meant more to me than anything else, though, is what people said to me. I received loads of cards and emails with beautiful messages meant to support and encourage me as I walked down Cancer Road. However, the nicest, most genuine words I received were those that were backed up with actions.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, about how words are empty if you don’t follow through with the promise you are making. Several years ago, the father of one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with cancer. My friend needed support during this time. She needed her friends to actually be friends. Speaking for myself, I failed miserably. All I gave her was empty words, words that promised support and love and friendship, but words that meant nothing because I didn’t follow through. I abandoned my friend when she needed me the most.
Here’s the scary thing, though—I had absolutely no idea that I was deserting her. I was clueless. I thought I was being a good friend. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did. I had never been in the position where a friend was dealing with such a hard, life-changing experience. I didn’t know what it meant to actually support somebody through cancer. I didn’t even realize how horribly unsupportive I was until I was diagnosed with cancer myself.
In October 2008, I received the worst news of my lifetime. Cancer is a hard word to hear, especially when it’s associated with your own name, but I was surrounded by supporters. I had people I didn’t even know emailing me notes of encouragement. My friends rallied around me and promised to walk with me the entire way. And they were a great support system for me. Words can’t convey how great they were. They sent me some of the most beautiful, heartfelt, supportive messages. And they truly meant every word they said and wrote to me…at first. After about a year, their words became empty. They abandoned me. They quit calling. They quit emailing. They quit checking in. Unbeknownst to them (I hope), they quit supporting me as I continue to try and figure out how to live with cancer.
All of them abandoned me with the exception of a precious few. I can count on one hand the number of friends who have actually walked this entire journey with me. One of those precious few is my dear friend who I did not support while her father was dealing with cancer. Not only did she forgive me for not walking the road with her, but she actually took up the journey with me. To this day she hasn’t abandoned me, not for one minute.
Since receiving my cancer diagnosis, I’ve learned the importance of words. The nicest, most heartfelt gift I’ve received has been from those few friends who have proven themselves to be true to their promise, friends whose words are followed by action.
This whole idea of words and friendship and support has been weighing heavy on my heart lately, and I just wanted to share my thoughts with you. We can only support each other when we back up our words with action. When our words of support are followed by inaction, we turn ourselves into liars. When we don’t follow through with our promise of support, we let each other fall to the ground, and when we fall to the ground, getting back on our feet is no easy task. I’m not telling you this because you don’t know how to follow through on your promise of support. That’s not it at all. You are a wonderful, beautiful community who know how to support each other. You get it. I know you do, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m telling you this because I think many of you know exactly what I’m talking about; you know what it’s like to be free-falling and land smack on the ground when you were expecting to be rescued by those who promised to be there but got distracted on the way.
So tell me, how has your idea of support changed since you’ve had to live with illness? How have words torn you down? How have they built you up? Do you have a good source of support to catch you when you fall?
Tags: cancer support, how to support someone with cancer, Life Refined written by Joanna Isbill, thyroid cancer, Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults, Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults Column, thyroid cancer support, understanding cancer's impact