Anyone with a serious diagnosis knows it not only scares you, it scares the people who care about you. Hopefully, over time, your condition gets better, as it has for me with leukemia. You feel better, are less worried, become more knowledgeable, and you begin to go on with your life. The illness may still be there, and you still you need checkups or some treatment. But you move on. But for your friends who may not nearly be so much in-the-know, they may still be a few steps back in “worryland.”
This past weekend I experienced that when I traveled from my home in Seattle to visit family and friends in New York and Connecticut. Numerous times I got that question: “How ARE you?” They looked deep into my eyes and measured every aspect of my response. They had been worrying and didn’t know what to think. Over the weekend I attended the 45th reunion of my boarding school where I grew up during the high school years. I reconnected with men I knew so very well, night and day, from ages 13 to 17. Some I had not seen in all those 45 years! But among them were ones I had reconnected with on Facebook. They had seen little snippets about me as a patient or from references there about medical checkups and tests. They didn’t know what to think. They worried. And they cared about me and wanted to have it put in perspective for them. I was happy to oblige.
Yes, it can be tiring to tell people one after another that you are okay, that you are feeling hopeful about the future, and that you are determined to live every day to its fullest. But I know they are asking out of love. And, beyond that, it is a “teachable moment.” We patients, as we continue to live life, are proof that treatments can work and that our determination to live and live well matters. We can give other people hope just by showing up and, if you don’t mind, answering their appropriate – and sometimes inappropriate – questions.
Basically, you are telling them, “I’m all right Jack.” And “No, I don’t think I am dying today or anytime soon.” I then follow with an invitation that basically says to them, “Let’s celebrate!” These past few days that meant not rushing from one appointment to another, not hesitating to stay late in the hotel bar to enjoy singing with old friends, and not ducking questions.
Whether it’s a cancer or some other chronic illness, survivors have been given the chance to live, and often live pretty well, day by day, week by week. With that comes helping those friends and family learn from us and treasure life the same way. I really don’t know if I’ll be there for my 50th reunion. But this one was very special, and the frank give and take made it even better.
Wishing you and your family the best of health