I need you guys. That’s why I’m writing today. I’m writing because I need you all to rally behind me and say 2 things to me:
WE ARE HERE FOR YOU, ANDREA
WE HEAR YOU, ANDREA.
I need you to lift me up on your backs. I’m discouraged. I’m hurt. I feel misunderstood. And I am going through, no joke, the WORST time of my life.
I hate to single someone out but I am so devastated by two comments (by the same person) that have been made to me on my cancer journey. I tried to get away with not writing about it, but since it’s happened twice, I feel angry and crushed, and I want to let it out in a more constructive way- by sharing my story. I’m going to try to do this with compassion and understanding, but the white hot fury churning in me is so damn painful. It stings the deepest part of me.
I think we can all agree that the LAST thing we want to do to someone who’s been impacted by cancer is to make them hurt even deeper.
I think that’s common knowledge, no? But unfortunately, insensitive comments can happen way too much- ESPECIALLY online.
I want to, NEED to be honest about how these comments have impacted me- not only to get it off my chest- but because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. This is a time for me to share my hurt, tell my story, and beg for support in this awful time of my life. And hopefully there will be a bit of education on what TO SAY and what NOT TO SAY to people who are facing the storm of their life.
It all started on Facebook, and of course it did. Though we’re evolving, we still don’t really know how to be authentic online, how to be sad on Facebook (I wrote about that here), and how to support each other on this platform. The internet can be a confusing wild west (especially when something traumatic happens), but anything-shouldn’t-go. And here, on Facebook, is where the trouble began
My Facebook status on August 5 was:
And I wrote it because that cancer center was the saddest place on earth. I hope to write more in depth about that later, but the gist of it was I felt horribly burdened for the people around me. Up until that point, it was BJ HAS CANCER. SHIT. But sitting in that hospital waiting room I was like SHIT- ALL these people have cancer. Most of them were sitting alone. They all spoke different languages. And I can safely assume none of them were wealthy, in fact, probably the opposite. And I thought to myself, BJ and I are going to BARELY survive this and we have each other and community and church. How are THESE people gonna do it? I was just saddened by the amount of people in that waiting room. Feeling sad, feeling hopeless. Lord, please heal THEM ALL, I prayed. Please please please.
And you know what? The support and the prayers poured in. It was amazing. Thank you, thank you.
But one comment came in that felt like an attack, a dark judgment, and a scold. It was written by someone who I will from here on refer to as “Facebook Friend.” As I am SURE you can imagine, Facebook Friend, wasn’t actually a REAL friend. Facebook Friend was a person who knew my mom and had met a handful of times. Facebook Friend was someone I’d never had a conversation with. Facebook Friend was someone I didn’t really know. (Don’t judge- I know we’ve all got a few Facebook randos on our friends list.) Well Facebook Friend, after reading my status, left this public comment on the thread. Here is the comment in it’s entirety:
Andrea, take a deep breath. I say this with love but this is not about you. The cancer center is the place that is providing your husband with medication he NEEDS to fight this awful cancer. Given he has no health care coverage he was limited to options. Please Show grace and mercy on this place, instead of disdain and disgust. Pray for the people there receiving treatments, walk in happy that this center is even available to BJ and the other people needing treatment. I will tell you that the center I went to (which probably looked like a 5 star hotel) was full of angry, bitter people getting treatment. The thing they were missing in their life that medicine cannot provide is Jesus! Hope and Faith that perhaps you can shine in that dark sad place. Praying for you both!
It may not seem like the worst thing. The scary thing is it ALMOST looks like it could be a helpful comment. But it really, really wasn’t. If you’ll look closely at each statement with me, you might see how harmful these comments really were.
“…I say this with love but this is not about you.”
This puzzles me. This hurts me. How is my husband’s cancer not about me? My husband is my husband because we are married. We are one flesh, one unit, a partnership. And we’ve committed to each other for LIFE. We live together, share meals together, sleep next to each other, work together, have sex with each other. So how is this not about me? It IS about me. It might as well BE me. My husband’s cancer IS about me. And saying it’s not feels like the fist in the face.
And I’m really concerned that this was prefaced with “I say this with love.” How is it really loving to minimize my experience with my husband’s cancer? It feels thoughtless and it feels like a judgement. This is a tricky road to travel on, Facebook Friend, especially with someone you hardly know, AND on impersonal medium that is the Internet. SAYING that you were saying this with love doesn’t mean there actually was love in the words you said. Your words LACKED love. You made a trite comment that made me feel like I had no right to share my feelings about cancer.
“The cancer center is the place that is providing your husband with medication he NEEDS to fight this awful cancer. Given he has no health care coverage he was limited to options.
Ok, ok, and then WHAM. Sharing our personal, private information about lack of health care (a tidbit this person probably got from a one-on-one PRIVATE conversation with my mom) and AIRING IT OUT ON FACEBOOK FOR EVERYONE TO SEE is NOT an appropriate (or loving) thing to do. Please, do NOT do that. This was not your information to share. Our medical bills, our finances, our insurance coverage is not information for you to share without asking us first. In fact, it should just not be done at all.
“Please Show grace and mercy on this place, instead of disdain and disgust.”
These words cut deep, and you used them so lightly. Little did you know I WAS showing grace and mercy. My heart had burst OPEN for the cancer center- and that’s why I asked for prayers. But you didn’t know that, and you made a hurtful, untrue assumption. And then you accused me of showing disdain and disgust for that place, when really all I had for “this place” was a heart breaking open and a plead for mercy on me AND everyone else in that place. I really don’t think harsh words like disdain and disgust have any place in a response to a genuine request for prayers.
“Pray for the people there receiving treatments,”
“walk in happy that this center is even available to BJ and the other people needing treatment.”
Walk in happy to a cancer treatment? NO. No. I can’t. I won’t. Or maybe I can. Maybe I will. But that is for ME to decide. Each day will be different and I can feel however I want to feel about cancer. Slapping on a happy face when that emotion is false is actually the WORST thing I could do to myself. Putting on a mask is the SCARIEST thing I could do to myself, and Cancer is already scary enough without the emotion-hiding masks, thank you very much. We must be SO careful when talking about emotions and cancer. Hear this loud and clear- denying yourself of your authentic emotions is a huge sign of emotional immaturity and it will only bring you pain. In fact, denying myself of authentic emotions is something I’ve struggled HARD to break free from (and would still be in bondage to if it weren’t for counseling). Your comment felt like a suggestion to go right back to my codependent, emotion-burying days. And it was frightening to hear you say this and THINK that it was advice. It’s not, it’s actually one of the worst things you can say to someone facing a traumatic situation.
“I will tell you that the center I went to (which probably looked like a 5 star hotel) was full of angry, bitter people getting treatment.”
You are a cancer survivor. You had cancer. I am so sorry. Cancer sucks. But you must be careful- that does NOT give you license to say WHATEVER you want to me. No. You still must be respectful, still must be sensitive. Experience with cancer does not make you an expert, or give you a medium in which to offer unsolicited advice. If you look back at my status- I asked for prayers, not advice.
“The thing they were missing in their life that medicine cannot provide is Jesus! Hope and Faith that perhaps you can shine in that dark sad place. Praying for you both!”
I could write PAGES on this, and you know what? Someday I will. But you know what GETS ME RILED UP like nothing else? Empty Christianese platitudes. OK Andrea, I’m going to make assumptions about you, speak harshly to you, tell you that this cancer is not about you but as long as I end it with a “Jesus!” and a “PRAYING FOR YOU!” I’m all good, right? NOPE. Nothing mocks the name of Jesus more than tacking it to the end of a judgmental rant.
And the worst part of all of this is I’m sure this all sounded helpful to Facebook Friend, that Facebook Friend felt they were actually giving sound advice, that perhaps Facebook Friend even thought they were being encouraging. Guys, THAT FREAKS ME OUT. THAT is why we must be so, SO careful with our words- becuase what you think might be helpful can actually be making someone feel diminished, chastised, and misunderstood. And I think we can all agree that is NOT how you want to make someone feel when they are facing the storm of their life.
And then on August 22 my Facebook status read:
HILARIOUS, right? Ok, not my funniest moment. But it was 10pm, I was slightly tipsy, and the thought came to me and I chuckled. Mostly because it feels true. I showed it to BJ. “Is this funny?” I asked. (Business as usual because before I put ANYTHING on the internets I run it past BJ. Blog posts, tweets, status updates; Is this good? Is this bad? Is this funny?)
Well he chuckled and gave the OK.
Minutes later my friend Kyle comments. LOVE THAT KID.
Kyle: I’m deff nominating you as soon as I get to it… Next month work?
HAH. Yup, that’s exactly how I feel. This guy knows me. Thanks for the laughs, Kyle. Good work. You *got* my little joke. HIGH FIVE! Life is good.
Jessica: If I get nominated I’m obviously nominating you
Jessica, how dare you. So sassy. But ya know what? Jessica and I are FRIENDS. She was saying this to get my goat. Because that’s what we do to each other. Because we know each other, because we are FRIENDS. WAY TO GO, JESSICA! You made me laugh too!
And then that VERY SAME FACEBOOK FRIEND ABOVE said
Facebook Friend: Thats dumb, because you don’t have cancer (sic)
WOAH WOAH WOAH. I don’t KNOW you Facebook Friend, remember? I’ve met you, yes. But I don’t KNOW you. And also- this just doesn’t even make sense. It’s just judgmental and mean.
First of all, your language. “That’s dumb.” Is it really? Is that really a nice thing to say to someone? Like EVER? In person OR online? Someone you don’t REALLY know? It just feels like a plain old mean thing to say.
And second, are you saying I don’t have the right to comment about cancer because *I* am not the one with cancer? It sounds like you want me to NEVER mention it, not acknowledge that it is a HUGE part of my life, the HUGEST part, actually.
How hurtful, and how immature to think that only the cancer-stricken have the right to bitch and moan.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BITCH AND MOAN. (Though it should stay within the confines of this diagram.)
I have the right to be utterly devastated. To be in over my head. To lose my shit.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FEEL HOWEVER I WANT TO FEEL.
Now there is one thing I’d like to address. I’d like to give some benefit-of-the-doubt to Facebook Friend. Perhaps Facebook Friend was having some actual, legitimate concerns about how I was handling cancer. And I have to say, that’s valid. Because just like I have the right to feel anyway I want, Facebook Friend has the right to feel anyway they want. So that means Facebook Friend has the right to be legitimately concerned about me and form whatever opinion they want of me. With that said, there is a key to sharing your legitimate concerns with someone. Let me introduce you to a handy little guide I’ve made to to help you find a healthy, appropriate way to bring up any legitimate concerns you may have:
Andrea’s Guide to Bringing Up Legitimate Concerns:
Ask yourself, am I this person’s close friend?
> If the answer is no, you SAY NOTHING. That’s it. Not your place. Not your battle.
> If the answer is yes, SAY NOTHING. Think on it, meditate on it, and then write down your words thoughtfully, tenderly, and prayerfully. Then, and ONLY THEN, will you MAYBE share it with that person. Oh, and it happens ONE on ONE and FACE to FACE. (And most definitely NOT on a public, ONLINE, message thread)
You know guys, maybe, just MAYBE I’m overreacting. But guys, this is the most awful thing that has ever happened to me (even if Facebook Friend would disagree- after all *I’m* not the one with cancer, right?) But I am in emotional overdrive. Each day I fight my ongoing battle with depression and failing more than not. Each day I try to help my husband eat food and shoot himself with needles and nap and get him to appointments and rub him with ointment. Each day I pray for healing, for my husband not to die, for the strength to deal with the unfathomable horror that is cancer.
So yes, I guess deep down I know I am right and Facebook Friend is dead wrong. But it doesn’t take away the hurt.
You know, it’s crazy how ONE dissenting voice can drown out all the supportive, uplifting ones.
But that’s the power of words, folks.
So friends, won’t you be someone who rallies up next to me today? You may feel powerless to help, but I promise, your words MEAN something big. They MEAN things to me, for better for worse.
That’s why I wrote this. Because our words have POWER. Whether they are words of rudeness or words of encouragement. They can ruin me for a day, spur me to write 1000 words of white hot fury, or they can lift me up and make me feel celebrated, loved, closer to God.
YOU have the power with your words.
I hate saying this, but things are dire. Things are bad. And I need you to say you are behind me.
I’M HERE AND I HEAR. That’s all I need.
Love to you, my friends. Thank you for listening. It means more than you know.