Month: January 2015

Cancer really sucks. Especially today.

When I was first diagnosed, I got angry.  I would go to Target or somesuch, look around at other people, and get angry.  It wasn’t very nice, but it’s the truth.

“Look at her,”  I would think. “Why doesn’t she have breast cancer?  She’s huge.”

“And her!” I would think in the parking lot upon seeing a middle-aged woman putting out a cigarette on her way in. “I don’t understand why it’s not HER.  I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life!”

I would look at children and wonder why MY children were so unlucky.  Why my children may have to lose their mother.

I would get mad at myself for having such thoughts.  I didn’t want anyone else to have breast cancer, but I couldn’t reason it for myself.  I am not the portrait of health, but I am not the portrait of unhealth either.

After one such trip where I deemed approximately ten other women more worthy of this diagnosis for various reasons, I laid in bed with Josh and cried.



Then something happened to me that has never happened before.  Something that I wasn’t sure actually happened to people.

God spoke to me.  He whispered, “I chose you.”

I know many of you don’t like to discuss such things or just don’t believe.  But believe me.  God chose me.

He didn’t tell me why.  He never repeated Himself.  But I know, without a doubt, that this was supposed to happen.

Knowing this didn’t make the “journey” (what a dumb word for what I’ve been through) easier.  It didn’t make chemo hurt less or keep my hair from falling out.  It didn’t erase my fears or eradicate my tears.  It didn’t feed my kids when I could barely get out of bed.  It didn’t give my husband the sleep he was so short on.  But I did stop comparing myself to others, and I stopped asking, “Why me?”

Because God chose me.  God has plans for me that I may never understand.  Or never see the full effects of.

And I have to believe the same of Sam Biggs.

Sam was diagnosed with liver cancer, at five-years-old, just weeks before me, and although I only really know his parents and only met him twice, I kind of felt like we were in this together.

Sam died today.

It’s hard for me to understand why this would ever happen to a child, but I think, in God telling me that He chose me, he also let me know that He chose Sam.

I can’t speak for the heartbreak that his family is now experiencing.  And I don’t want to pretend to know anything about it because I don’t.  I can only imagine, and I don’t even like to do that.

I can speak for our community and say that we care.  I can say that, although Sam was only six-years-old, he moved us.  He changed us.  He made us better.

His parents may never understand why (or maybe they’ve had conversations of their own?), but we can help them understand how their family has changed us.  What Sam’s life meant TO US.  And we can make sure to be there for them when they need it.  Through prayer.  In hugs and meals and friendship.  By not forgetting Sam, whom God chose.


**If you want to help but don’t know the Biggs family personally or don’t know how, you can always donate directly to the family here.  Even when cancer is destroying your life, you still have to pay for it…

Internet Searches and Survival Mode.

I’m not gonna lie; I’ve had a little stage fright lately.  (My blog is, obvs, a stage, and I guess I’m pretty much a drama queen.  Though, not really.)

There have been lots of new people around here since the heathline win (Hi!  And welcome!), when before it was just, like, my dad, my cousin Sue, sometimes my eighth grade boyfriend, and, once, Taylor Hanson.  I would come here, write a post the way I would tell it to my bffs (Only I’m much better in writing.), and hope no one unfriended me.  That was that.  I was in it to make myself laugh and to let everyone know what the latest haps were.  Then, more people starting coming around, and I got nervous.  Like I was trying to watch my mouth at my grandpa’s on Easter.  The thing is, though, is that my grandpa doesn’t care.  He’s one funny s.o.b.  And knowing that Grandpa Gene has my back, I decided to keep running my mouth (fingers?) and get over myself.

Thanksgiving with Grandpa Gene.
Thanksgiving with Grandpa Gene.

So first things first.  You guys, my blog stats page sometimes shows me search terms that landed people here, and I’m noticing a very dirty trend.  Yesterday, someone googled “killer body trying boobs nude girls hd hot” and found their way here.  Two days ago, it was “girls post ur boobs.”

I can only assume that, when they found themselves on this here breast cancer site — almost the exact opposite of what they were going for — they were more than a tad disappointed.  Which cracks. me. up!  I kind of love that some guy (I mean, let’s just assume it’s a guy because duh.) took to the interwebs to get his jollies and wound up here — a site that is centered around what happens when boobs are not your friends…when, in fact, boobs try to kill.  They are more Freddy Krueger than Pamela Anderson.  You have to cut or be cut.  So anyway, he ends up with pictures of a woman with NO BOOBS and she’s bald!  Bahaha.  Serves him right.

It kind of makes me want to type in words like “hot” and “young” and “naked” and other words that I just can’t bring myself to type to trick more people.  And also, maybe it’s a good way to get more readers.  Who’s to say they don’t have a little read while they’re here?  Like, Oh no!  That’s not what I was going for (penis probably in hand), but what is this she’s saying about how to talk to a person with cancer?  And oh look, she finally got to ring the bell.  Good for her!  You go, girl!

Maybe I’m inadvertently teaching pervs that breast cancer is more than a pink ribbon?  This trickery could probably be good for society.

I’m not quite sure how to transition out of that and into my next topic so let’s just take a huge leap together…

My husband is kind of losing it.  (Josh okayed this post.)  It has been a slow progression, but we are passing each other as I’m on the road up, and he’s on the road down.  And I just wanted to talk about this because it’s the truth.  Breast cancer sucks.  For everyone involved.

Last weekend, some friends and I went out for dinner and drinks to celebrate my win and my new column.  Josh and I (who never get to be alone anymore!) got a babysitter two hours early and went to a coffee shop to talk and dream.  It was great!  But by the end of our two hours, Josh’s mood started going downhill.  As we quietly drove to meet our friends, I asked him if he was okay.  He was just tired.

“Well, if you want, you can just drop me off and go home to get some rest.”

“That would be great, Heather.  Thanks for saying that.  You really don’t mind?”

Uhhh….  Umm… Those were just things I said.  I didn’t really think you’d do it.  Umm…

“Sure, yeah, that’s fine.  I know you’ve been tired lately.  Brandy can give me a ride home.”

So that’s what he did.  Except, Josh told me that, when he got home, he saw through the window that the girls were having a good time with their cousin/babysitter and decided to go out for a burger.  Alone.  While I ate with friends at a different place.  After a while, he did go home to hang out in the basement while his niece continued to babysit.  I’m sure she was all “No big deal.  My uncle is just downstairs having a mid-life crisis.”

Okay, yes, I’m joking about this (That is how I deal, as you know.), but I know that it’s also very serious.  Josh really is so tired.  He’s having a hard time focusing.  And I think everything is just now hitting him.

He didn’t have time to fall apart before.  He had to be the sane one.  I’m not saying that we didn’t both have some dark days, but he really didn’t share those with me much.  I was in no place to deal with anyone else’s worries.  Now I’m realizing what his worries must have been.

He's just our favorite.  Him and balloons.
He’s just our favorite. Him and balloons.

We are a couple that shares everything.  We are oversharers.  Sometimes to a fault.  And through this, Josh has kind of been on his own.  I was just incapable of handling anything other than myself (which I didn’t always do well).  That is just the truth of my year with cancer.  Now that I am coming out of the emotional and mental fog, Josh is finally letting go.

To top it off, the man is really physically tired.  He had to take on so much.  He was working, taking care of our daughters, taking care of me, probably worrying about our future…  He’s just tired.

Over the last week, we’ve had some really good talks…and he’s had some weekend naps.  I’m really trying to pay attention to Josh’s needs now that I can handle other people’s needs again.  We’re also planning some time away.


I can already see Josh coming back.  We didn’t realize how far apart we had been.  Although cancer made us love harder and deeper, it also put us in survival mode, and it just kicked our asses.

I guess I just wanted to let you know that we are still fighting.   While we do realize how lucky we’ve been, there is no definite end point to this.  We are still finding our way, but much like those pervy pervs searching dirty things keep ending up here, we keep finding ourselves in unexpected places too.

Interrupting your regularly scheduled program to let you know that I have become Carrie Bradshaw.

You guys, this last year has been crazy.  Crazy good, crazy bad, crazy in between.  But I have something to tell you of the what-my-dreams-are-made-of variety.  I’m pretty sure that I am now Carrie Bradshaw — without all the shoes, hair, and boobs…and with a better face.  Duh.  I have even sorted my friends into Samanthas, Mirandas, and Charlottes.  (Are you now wondering which of my friends are slutty enough to be a Samantha?  I told her that it meant she was my “fun” friend, and she was definitely the first friend I sexted my butt to 😉 )  And Josh is Mr. Big, with much less commitment phobia, obvs.

You don’t know what any of that means?  Fair enough, Sex and the City haters.  (You really should give the show a watch, but skip the movies, k?)  What I’m saying is that I’ve got my VERY OWN NEWSPAPER COLUMN…in The Telegraph!!  Surprised?  Umm, me too!

Let me be the first to say that it is on a trial basis…and I’m not getting paid, but when the editor said that it could be good for my writing career, I thought, “My writing career?  I didn’t know I HAD a writing career!”  So yeah, I’m pretty pumped.

My first column should be in tomorrow’s paper, and as a little teaser I’ll just tell you that I mention which boob was always my favorite and why.  As I was writing it, I wasn’t even sure that I could say “boob” in the paper, but apparently, it’s cool.  Otherwise, I’d be screwed.  Since it’s my first, it’s just an overview of what I’ve been through and who I am, but you should still tune in. [Update: Here’s the link to the column!]

Also, Heathline is featuring me on their site tomorrow for winning the blog contest (Thank you, guys!!).  [Update: Here’s that link too!] The writer who interviewed me was delightful and just so much fun so I think it’ll be good.  He did ask, as everyone has lately, what I plan to do with my $1000, and the answer is that I don’t know yet.  First of all, I don’t have the money yet, but secondly, I’ve really just been having so much fun thinking of all the things I could do with it and discussing ridiculous ideas with my friends.  I mean, in truth, I’ll probably just pay some medical bills with it and sneak in a night away with Josh, if I’m lucky (and I never have any trouble getting lucky *wink wink*).  But what about if I:

  • let it all ride on black?  (That wouldn’t make anybody super mad, right?)
  • took all of my favorite girlfriends on a girls’ night out to see Taylor Swift (haters gonna hate!) in September?
  • got a new, fancy, blingy watch?
  • bought 2000 Jack-in-the-Box tacos and had the biggest (and greasiest) thank you party ever?
  • bought bigger boobs (prosthetics) so I finally had my “going out” pair?
  • [insert your ridiculous ideas here]?

I feel like I earned this money differently than I earn my work (ie. nursing career) money, and I feel like, since I had to get cancer to earn it, that it is okay if I spend it on a little more fun.  Really, it’s just so fun to have possibilities.  Like, the girls at work are taking a trip to Vegas in a week, and since I won this money, I was like, “Yeah, I could go too!  That would be so fun!” knowing that I wasn’t going to go.  But it’s so fun to think that I could if I really wanted to.

So yeah, things are good for me right now, and I really have you guys to thank.  Isn’t it crazy how your life can be torn completely apart and then rebuilt in a better way than you could have imagined?


Flat and Fabulous.

**Disclaimer: Go no further if you don’t want to see mastectomy scars, my friends, but really, I promise it’ll be okay.


Last Saturday, I found myself half naked, posing in front of a camera.  My momma warned me about things like this…

But no, I promise it was legit, and my underwear never left my bottom.  You see, my friend and the official Lagemann family photographer, Chantel, did this amazing thing for me and kind of brought my sexy back.  Out of the kindness of her heart, she offered me a free boudoir session in the middle of her full-on boudoir weekend.  She said that she thought we could do something “really beautiful and lovely and sensual,” and she just wanted to bring me some joy.  I was skeptical, but I went for it anyway.  The result: meow.


But, first, let me back this train up a bit.  Before you go backing dat ass up into a camera, there’s some formal maintenance to be done.  And in my case, I had to face the reality of hair regrowth — in all the wrong places.  That is how I found myself having a conversation about God and my purpose in life with a beautiful Polish woman while she was skillfully spreading my butt cheeks.

“So do you think God was trying to tell you something with this cancer?” she asked while applying hot wax inside my butt crack.

Umm…WHAT is she doing?  Did she just put wax in my butt crack?  I thought this was just a bikini wax!  What exactly is a bikini wax??  I think I’m in over my head.

“Yes, I definitely do.  I think this was His way of redirecting my life.”


God, help me now!

“That happened to me too, you know?” she said while spreading another thin line of wax in places to be unnamed.  “When I was younger and still lived in Poland, I had an infection, and I thought I would die.  It changes your life, and I think when God gives you a warning like that, you have to change.”


So yeah, prep for the boudoir session was fun and enlightening.  I also had to find something to wear, and let me tell you, lingerie shopping without boobs is no fun.  It’s just not.  It’s one billion times worse than shopping for jeans and eighty four times worse than swimsuit shopping.  I ended up taking Josh’s guitar with me out of sheer frustration, and I’m glad I did.  Because this.



The whole experience was pretty amazing though, and not entirely what I expected.  Chantel had mimosas waiting for us on arrival, and good call, my photographer friend.  Alcohol was the exact right way to start this morning.  There was also a perfect playlist, yummy snacks, take-home gifts, and a hair and makeup wonder worker, Kate.  In general, the mood was cool, feminine, and fun.

The woman shooting before me didn’t mind if we watched, which really made me a little braver, like, “Yeah, why should I care?  We’re all women.”  But she was really, very beautiful, and I…well, I don’t have boobs.  And my butt is kind of out of control.  You know how you are self conscious about this or that about your body.  Well, my this and that happen to be my rear end and my thighs.  So much so that when I walk out of a room naked (It happens.  You know, to the shower or something.) and Josh is around, I moonwalk out.  I literally would rather moonwalk out of a room than have my husband look at my butt in the light of day.  He thinks I’m ridiculous.  I think I’m hilarious.

I tell you this to give you an idea of how nervous I was to strut that thing out in the open and not only let someone look directly at it (You’re not supposed to look directly at the sun, a Basilisk, or my bottom.) but also take PHOTOGRAPHS of it.  When I spoke of my trepidation, “So I kind of have big butt and some cellulite back there,” Chantel retorted, “We all have cellulite.  That’s what the blurring tool in photoshop is for!”  That’s when I knew this was going to work.  And hey, can I get one of those blurring tools to take with me to the pool this summer?  That’d be great.  kthanks.

Aaand after all that booty talk, I can’t show you any of those pictures, but believe me.  They are good.  Those are for my husband’s eyes only though.  And for sexting my bffs.

I also have never felt very “flat and fabulous,” which is kind of a bullshit term in the breast cancer world for “Cancer took away my boobs, and I’m trying my hardest to be okay with myself as I am.”  But I really am trying to do that.  For me but also for my daughters.  I can’t let them think I define myself by my breasts, or that they should when the time comes.  I can’t let them think that a woman is only judged as sexy/confident/beautiful by her body.  I have to show them that, while it’s okay for me to miss a part of my body, I know who I am, and it was never my breasts or my big butt or my hair or whatever it is that people LOOK at.  And for the other women out there facing mastectomies, it really will be okay.  Buuuut that didn’t make it easier to bare all.  Chantel, Kate, the other ladies, and the whole vibe of the boudoir shoot did.




We laughed.  Because when else does a friend say, “Open your legs just a little bit.  A little bit more…  Nope!  Nevermind, close them!” or “Okay, I want you to pop your booty.  Yeah, perfect!  Just like that!”



It turned out to be a lot of fun.  More important than that, though, was how EMPOWERING it was.  I put it all out there, and by doing so, I somehow took my body back — the good and the bad.  For the first time in a long time, I felt like a woman again.  I felt feminine and sexy.  Both of which are super hard to do with a buzz cut and a general lack of boobs.  I felt like I was back in charge, and for that, I can never thank Chantel enough.

I left thinking, “Every woman should do that.”

And I really believe that.

I asked Chantel if she’s ever done one herself, and she said, “Oh no.  I had twins.  My stomach is a wreck.”

“Well, I don’t have boobs, and I’m doing it.”



**So I promise that Chantel didn’t pay me or bribe me with a lifetime supply of Reese’s peanut butter cups or anything to say any of this.  I just really love her work, and if you are interested in a boudoir session or any other kind of session, you can find her at Breathtaking Photography on facebook or here on her website.  Here’s a post she wrote about her boudoir sessions if you’re interested.

Also, she took my all-time favorite picture of Penny and me the night before Alice was born. <3  So, you know, you can keep your clothes on too if you want.

family_lagemann_heather_8_2013 (120 of 32)

Cancer is kind of like getting to sit in at your own funeral.

This week has been nuts.  Totally bananas.  But, like, banana split bananas; not the mushy kind that your mom put in your sack lunch.  Between my budoir session (oh yes, that happened — without boobs — and I WILL tell you all about it next time!) and this blog contest (Umm…hi, you guys ROCKED IT!!!!  Thankyousomuch!), I have almost had more love thrown at me than my little heart can handle.  It’s not just this week though; it’s this whole experience.  I’ve been trying to sort through it and to think of a way to explain my feelings to you all, and I think I’ve come to it.

Cancer has given me a little preview of my funeral, and it has been the best.  Just THE best.

No, I am not telling you that I am dying or anything crazy.  The cancer is not back.  What I am saying is that you all opened up to me in a way that you maybe wouldn’t have if death hadn’t tried to knock at my door.

When my mom died, so many people sent cards and letters telling us how much they loved her.  These notes told wonderful stories of her and often mentioned specific ways that she touched their lives.  Her wake was packed, and so many kind words were spoken in choked voices.  Still, today, people stop to tell me what a good friend she was or what am impact she had on them.

Sometimes I think, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if she could hear all of this for herself?”

Well, I feel like I have.  That is one of cancer’s gifts.  (They are few and far between.)  So many of you have sent cards, letters, or facebook messages FULL of love.  I have been reminded of some really great memories and reconnected with some really great friends.  We all love each other (for the most part, I really do believe), but it’s not often that we express it.  My cancer gave you guys a free pass to tell me how you felt, and it has been amazing.  Not only did it REALLY lift me up during the hardest year of my life, but it has given me a new view of the world and how we love.

But even more amazing than your words of encouragement and love have been your ACTS of love.  Countless meals.  Anonymous care packages in the mail.  A mowed lawn.  A pink bracelet on your wrist.  A hand-made prayer blanket.  A friend brushing my hair (oh, my hair!) when my arms couldn’t reach after surgery.  My cousins cleaning my house, folding my laundry, making cancer jokes with me.  My brother texting me almost every night from work to check on me.  Our librarian helping me find books to explain this all to Penny.  Doug Bristow shaving his beard into a cattail AND competing in an Ironman Race IN A DRESS in the name of raising money to pay my bills.

PicMonkey Collage DOug

ALL the donations.  The ice bucket challenges in my honor.  A friend spending the evening with me when I couldn’t do much more than lay on the couch.

Just so much more.

And on the other side of this funeral business, cancer also gave me a taste of the end of my life, and I found myself screaming back, “Oh, hell no!  I’m not done yet!”  I’ve really barely gotten started.  Previewing your own funeral will make you live. your. life, my friends.  And love the people in it with a wonderful ferocity.

There was a night, about three weeks after my diagnosis, that I really thought I was dying.  I have had my fears and doubts throughout, but on this night, one week after my double mastectomy, I really, really thought that I wouldn’t make it through this.

I had spent the day with my dad, who was taking care of my girls.  As I sat on the couch, my hand found its way to a new lump just under my collarbone.

Wide-eyed, I asked, “Dad, what IS THIS?”

The look in my dad’s eyes after assessing the “new lump” for himself is not a look you ever want to see in your parent’s eyes.  That look scared me more than the lump itself.

I was dead.  I knew it.  So that night I laid in bed with Penny, staring at her sweet little sleeping face, and had one of the worst nights of my life.  Sorrow.  So much sorrow.  And loneliness.

The thing is — now that I’m on the other side (hopefully forever) — I’m glad that I had that night.  It was a night that stripped me bare.  That night taught me a deeper love.  That night taught me serious compassion.  That night forever changed me for the better.  I don’t want to have another night like it, for sure, but I wouldn’t take it back.  (And the lump actually turned out to be the end of a drain that I hadn’t noticed before.  Doh!)

Tonight, I am having a very different kind of night.  Almost, the exact opposite kind of night.  I can’t sleep tonight because I feel so alive.  I found myself this year, AND I feel so loved and supported.  The way you guys rallied around me and this blog has blown me away, and I can’t thank you enough.  I just can’t.

Wouldn’t it be really awesome if we could say all the things we want to say and support each other in the best of ways, like you guys have done for me, without the all sickness and dying?  Because I feel like this little sneak peak of my funeral (you know, from YEARS and YEARS down the road) has been just great.


I never planned on having a buzz cut.

Cancer is (but really isn’t) so much about the hair.  For everything else that’s going on, it’s, like, a lot of hair talk, you know?  But seriously, I just have to tell you that having this “haircut” feels a little like wearing a vest that your grandma knitted with her knitting circle buddies.  Just no.  And I need to talk about it.  (You guys are pretty much free therapy, right?  And you’re awesome at keeping my secrets, yes?)

I’m having troubles figuring out how to field niceties re: my hair situation.  When someone compliments my buzz cut, I don’t know how to respond.  Like, truly, I haven’t figured out how to react, and I should probably work on it because this is how my life is going right now:

Random person that I work with/run into at the grocery store/live with:  “Heather, your hair is so cute like that!  Not just anyone can pull off a haircut like that, but you are!”



It feels like people are complimenting my coffee-stained teeth or how great my last fart smelled or something.

Is this a joke?  I don’t understand.

How do you take a compliment for something that you absolutely hate?  Or wasn’t even your idea?  Or was a result of the worst experience of your life?  Gah.

And the other night, at work, it got worse, or possibly better.  I’m not sure.  A patient HIT ON ME.

As I’m flushing his IV, “You’re beautiful, you know that?”

“Pfffffffffft.  **fart noise**”

I awkwardly finish up and start for the door.

“You are.  And if you ever want to talk, we can talk.”

“Umm…if you need anything else or if your chest pain comes back, let me know.  I’ll be back to check on you in a little bit.”

“And if you need anything, let me know.”

Before I make my quick retreat, my mind takes him in and screams, “Oh, COME ON!  Are you seriously hitting on me right now?  I’M BALD!  I know you have a past history of drug abuse, but are you high right now?  If you’re seriously hitting on me, I suggest that you get your shit together and raise your standards.  This is an embarrassment for both of us!”

But then, you know, I walked down the hall back to the nurse’s station with a pep in my step.  Drug abuser or not, this is the first time I’ve been hit on since the big C took away any chance I had at working the pole for a living.  (I mean…you never know.  Maybe it’s how I would have sent Penny to medical school or gotten Alice those braces.)  When I wasn’t looking it in the face, it felt pretty good.

Josh tells me I’m pretty all the time, but that doesn’t really mean anything.  He’s my husband; he’s just trying to get what is his.  When this thirty-something, drug abusing, unemployed cardiac patient told me that I was beautiful, well… baby, I’m back!

Buuuuut then, I found out that he hit on my nurse’s assistant.  And pretty much every other female that entered the room.  It was really fun while it lasted though.

I knew this hair made me look like a lesbian (Legit — I’ve been mistaken for a lesbian twice now.) or a dude.

Because last night it got even worse.  Last night, I answered the door to a Charter saleslady, and she didn’t know how to address me.  In all fairness, I was wearing my husband’s t-shirt, and I wasn’t wearing my boobs.  I saw the confusion in her eyes, and I heard the struggle in her voice as she asked me if I was “the…the…llllll….lady?…of the house.”

Damn this buzz cut!

In truth, I just don’t feel like myself.  I feel naked without my hair.  I feel like someone else.  I feel misrepresented.  When I’m around new people, these feelings are multiplied by a hundred because they don’t know that I didn’t choose this.  They have no other picture of me in their heads besides the one I’m showing them right now.  They can’t reference my long hair and know who I really am (physically).  When they say, “I like your hair,” I’m faced with the dilemma of either having to tell them that I didn’t do this on purpose (and, subsequently, the whole story, which just leads to me awkwardly comforting them) or just smiling and thanking them, which kills me.

Actually, now that I’ve written it out, it seems so easy.  Just smile and say thanks.  Geez, Heather…get over yourself!  The lesbians would be lucky to have me!  And I them.  (I’ve always wanted wife.)

And come to think of it, I ran into an acquaintance at Siteman who is fighting stage 4 colon cancer, and her chemo doesn’t make her lose her hair.  My first thought was one of sorrow for her because by not losing her hair, people won’t know how sick she is or how rotten she feels.  In a way, I’m glad that I lost my hair.  It’s the physical sign that one has been touched by cancer, and the world reacts accordingly.

I just can’t wait until people know, for sure, that I’m a lady again.  That’ll be nice too.


P.S.  You guys have really brought the voting up a notch in the last week, and I really appreciate it.  You are pretty much the bee’s knees.  There are only five days left, and I’m about 1000 votes behind so what do you say we take that other blog down (just to second place — I’m not a complete jerk.)?  Click here to vote daily!

How to talk to someone with cancer.

One of my best friend‘s dad died just before Christmas.  She called, and I met her at the hospital almost instantly.  It was the same emergency room that I went to to say goodbye to my mom.  Not only had I been in her shoes, but I grew up with this family.  They ARE family.  The thing is — I still didn’t know what to say.  I know, from experience, that they will likely not remember what I did or didn’t say, but that night, in raw shock and grief, my friend looked to me for some guidance.  “What do I do now?” she asked.

At their house, at the funeral, over the phone, and even now, I struggled to find the words.  I settled with a hug and different variations of “I’m so sorry” and “I love you” knowing that there are no right words.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in April, I saw this same struggle come over people.  They didn’t know what to say to me.  And every hurdle I faced, there was a new crop of solemnity in the eyes of those surrounding me.  People just didn’t know what to say.

Truthfully, there is almost nothing worse than silence, but in the case that someone said “the wrong thing,” it never really bothered me.  I’m not easily offended, and I realize the difficulty of the situation.  I understand that saying anything at all is akin to saying, “Hey, I care,” so I honestly appreciated everything anyone said to me.  You guys really pulled me through with love and grace.

With a few exceptions.

There are really some things you just SHOULDN’T say to someone with cancer, and I’m here to help.  (If you said any of these things to me, don’t worry, we’re cool.  Just, you know, maybe hold it back next time you’re trying to think of something to say in the face of something as awful as cancer.)  It’s a short list (only two things), but here we go.

“But you could get hit by a car tomorrow.”

No.  Just no.  My husband actually said this to me the other day when I was talking about my fear of dying from this horrible, awful disease (which spawned this whole post!), but he’s not the only person that has used this line.

The problem.  It dismisses the fear.  The valid, legitimate fear that cancer does and can kill.

Also, do you see a car trailing behind me?  Because I ACTUALLY have mutinous, killer cancer cells IN MY BODY trying to take me down.  Until there is a car gunning for me full speed, just no.  It is not the same thing.

“My aunt/sister/boss/mom died of breast cancer.”

Oh, how nice.  Let’s talk about how slow and painful it was too.

The only time you should say this to someone is if they are your mortal enemy.  Like, if you hate someone, really hate someone, and they are diagnosed with cancer, then you could probably give them a whole list of people you knew who died of that type of cancer and consider yourself one up.  In that case, however, you are a ginormous asshole.

Honestly, when anyone said this to me, I knew that they were just trying to relate with me.  I knew they were *trying* to say, “Hey, I’ve seen breast cancer, and I understand.  I know it’s tough, I know it’s scary, and I know what you are facing in the days ahead.”

But you really should just hold that little nugget inside unless you want to make my day worse.  Because it always did.  Hearing of someone who died of breast cancer, ESPECIALLY in the early days of diagnosis, was panic inducing.  I can handle it much better now, but let’s be honest, I am now also taking an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds at bedtime.  So bring it on; I’m covered!  Just kidding.  I still don’t like to hear about it.

On the flip side, if you know of someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer and is, like, twenty plus years out, feel free to mention that.  Those stories I welcomed with warm hugs.  But don’t expect me to go too crazy.  In twenty years, I’ll only be 53.

There are also things that people wouldn’t say that I wished someone would have.  Like, “Wow, Heather, you look like shit.  Chemo must be a real bitch.”

Everyone was so quick to say how good I looked, considering, and they usually left off the “considering” part.  Now, I know darn well that I didn’t look good — bags under my eyelash free eyes, a bald head, and a partial grimace on my face — and I didn’t feel good.  I also know that people were just trying to throw me a bone, but if someone would have just conceded that I looked pretty awful, I would have been all like, “I know, right?  Thank you!  I feel pretty awful, and this cancer is really taking me down a notch.”  Validation.

Be careful with this one though.  First, I’m not sure that every cancer patient feels the same way, and second, not just anyone can get away with it.  There are definite rules.

If it looks like I tried at all to throw myself together, wait until next time.  Signs that I tried to put myself together whilst in chemo: a wig, anything other than pajama pants, chapstick.

Also, you must be in the inner circle to say it.  I figure there are about twenty five people in my life that I would have welcomed such a comment from.  Brothers, cousins, best friends.  You should know if you’re in someone’s inner circle.  If you’re not sure, just don’t.  Remember when I went back to work, and someone commented on my weight?  Not cool.  If you aren’t in the inner circle, keep the compliments flowing.  My self esteem has just taken a huge hit.

If my brother/cousin/best friend had walked through the door, dinner in hand and said, “Damn, Heather, you look like hell.  How you feeling?” I would have laughed and loved it because someone has to keep it real.  It gets pretty old hearing how “great” you look bald and how lucky you are not to have a misshapen head when all you want is your long, lovely, feminine hair back.

Keeping it real is what I craved a lot of the time.  Which is why I often enjoyed the company of children.  They don’t always know not to keep it real.  Penny was great at it.  My friend’s son showed no signs of hesitation at commenting on my bald head with a “Why aren’t you wearing your wig?”  My niece, Abbi, is one of the only people who talked with me about the possibility of my death, and she’s seven.

She spent the night at our house mid-chemo, and upon seeing my bald head for the first time, I saw her thoughtful face, and said, “The medicine I take made it fall out, but it will grow back.”

“I know.  My dad told me,” she said and sat for a moment, never looking away from me.  “I know that you could die from cancer.”

“Yes, I could.  I really could… but I don’t think I will.”

“Me neither.”

I can’t tell you how good that exchange was for my soul.  Someone said it.  Someone finally said it.  My doctor never even said it.  She gave me odds, numbers, but NO ONE says things like, “You could die,” but it’s true.  And it’s so good to hear someone else say what you know and everyone else wants to gloss over.

Just don’t say nothing.  Don’t drop out of someone’s life because you don’t know what to say or how to approach them.  Because that is the very worst.  Truly, with the exception of the aforementioned phrases, there are no wrong words.  As long as you approach someone with love, they feel it.  And if you really are at a loss for what to say, just remember not to be afraid of whatever it is that is going on.  No one once reminded me that I had cancer; it never left my mind.  No one made my day worse simply by bringing it up; I always appreciated the support.  If words still fail you, go in for the hug and mean business.