Learning to Listen

2019 6 17 LIstenFor the past eight years, I’ve watched my best friend fight her body’s rebellion in the form of Ovarian cancer.

She’s had surgeries, blood transfusion, infusion ports, tubes down her nose, and more lab draws than I can count.

Her life revolves around doctor’s appointments, lab results, and treatments as she tries to have some normalcy in the everyday things.

When she first started this journey, I’ll admit, fury wouldn’t begin to accurately describe my feeling toward the situation.

How dare the evil “C” come after my friend so fiercely! (Insert multiple profanities here.)

If cancer had been person, I would probably be in prison right now. 2019 6 17 Most-people-do-not-listen-with-the-intent-to-understand-they-listen-with-the-intent-to-reply1


Not really.


I’ve said enough…

Anyhew…she got through her initial “debulking” surgery, which consisted of her getting a large, new belly scar, an infusion port, and a whole lot of new medications.

My anger grew as she told me about her upcoming treatments and how much her life changed, but compared to her ferocity at her diagnosis, mine probably looked like a couple of happy bunnies bouncing through the tall grass. Still, I wanted, needed to do something. Fix the situation. Make it better. Have all the answers.

I needed that, but that’s not what she needed.

When she called to tell me about her latest lab results, chemo treatments, or doctor’s appointments, she explained didn’t want me to fix anything.

She didn’t need me to tell her the latest trend in chemo research or if she’d just take these six things out of her diet or if she’d stand on her head every morning, it would cure her cancer.

She certainly didn’t want any articles about miracle cures or survival statistics.

No, what she needed me to do was listen. Just listen.

Understand, that’s difficult for me to do. Simply sit quietly, take it all in, and not spit out a solution.

I have always loved to help people. Over the years, (hopefully) I’ve given helpful advice and fixed situations that need a hand. I’m quick to address a problem and love the chaos of unpredictability.

That’s why I was a damn good trauma/critical care nurse. Before then, I waited tables and tended bar. All are perfect jobs for someone who’s got a brain thinking at ninety miles per hour 24/7.

Such skills didn’t bode well with two thousand miles between us. I couldn’t help her with the daily things like making meals or cleaning her house or helping her get to and from doctor’s visits and chemo treatments.

That stressed me just as much as her battling this stupid, stupid cancer.

2019 6 17 Never Miss a Good ChanceThen in the middle of all this chaos, something beautiful happened. When I asked her what I could do to help, she said for me to “hang out” with her while she had her treatments. “Be there” when she needed to vent and help her translate some of the medical terminology that didn’t quite make sense.

So, every Thursday, we started texting as soon as her butt touched the treatment chair. She’d call me to and from doctor visits and lab draws.

She’d vent when the chemo caused neuropathy bad enough that she didn’t trust her own feet underneath her.

I’d check on her several times a week, simply ask how her day was going. Not all conversations were about cancer. With over forty years of friendship, we quickly rolled back into talking about any and everything–kids, work, books, movies–whatever came to mind.

With all those conversations, I listened and learned and absorbed everything she told me about what she went through.

The obstacles with insurance. The frustration with remembering things she never had trouble remembering before because of “chemo brain.”

She explained how life at work changed because some of her co-workers wouldn’t look her in the eyes anymore when she lost her hair. (Can you believe that?)

Because of that, when I see someone who appears to be going through cancer treatments, I always make eye contact, smile, and say hello. It’s simple and it can mean the world to someone having a particularly crappy day.

She told me how to better ask questions of those going through difficult times and how to  better help.

She also explained, sometimes it’s perfectly okay to say…nothing.

That’s right. You read that right. To say…nothing. To simply sit and listen.

That doesn’t meant you ditch people. What it means is you keep being present, you keep showing up, and you keep being the same friend you’ve always been.

And it’s perfectly okay to tell someone, “I’m not sure how to help you.” or “Please tell me what I can do for you.” or “This sucks.”

Communication can make an amazing difference in the life of someone going through this crap and to communicate better, simply learn to listen.

2019 6 17 Listening to help

If these symptoms are new to you and persist for more than 2 weeks, please talk to your health care provider about addressing them and parameters for follow up.

If you feel your provider isn’t listening, please get a second opinion.

2016 8 31 Symptoms of OC


Nuggets of wisdom during the last few months

The other day, I received the great news from my oncologist that I am currently in remission.  I choose to think that I am cured.  Although the battle is not over – my type of cancer has a high recurrence rate – I will celebrate each day that I am cancer-free.  I have learned and observed a lot during the last few months.  Here are a few nuggets of wisdom:

*     Caregivers are angels who have earned their wings.   If you have ever been ill or incapacitated in any way for any length of time, I hope you were lucky enough to have a caregiver – or several – by your side.  Caregivers are selfless people who give their time and energy to an ill loved one. They become cooks, cleaners, chauffeurs, pack mules, and most importantly, they are advocates who ensure that the patient gets the best care possible.

*    Speak up.  Early on in my treatment, I was less-than-satisfied with a particular situation.  I mentioned it to one of the nurses in my doctor’s office.  I was very fortunate in that she spoke with another nurse who called me for the all the details.  She listened to my concerns and mentioned it to my doctor.  The next time I saw my doctor, my doctor asked me for details so I repeated them to her.  She listened with sincere concern for my well-being and thanks to her, changes were made and the situation was resolved quickly.  I am so glad that I spoke up and I am glad that I have a doctor who listened to me.

*   Get organized and stay that way.  I previously posted some tips about being organized.  It is so important to keep track of appointments, medications, notes, legal information, etc.  It really makes treatment much easier when you’re not scrambling to gather important items.  Being organized alleviates a lot of stress and allows you to concentrate on you getting better.

*   Nothing is “big” anymore.  Once a person has been diagnosed with cancer, nothing else seems as big as it used to.  Things that seemed important or things that seemed like mountains to climb are no longer that important.  When it comes down to it, nothing is as important as fighting to live.  I don’t care what people say or think about me, I don’t care who stares at my hairless head, I don’t care about anyone else’s “drama,” and I don’t have any problems pulling out the “no” card when someone asks for me to volunteer or help with a project.  What matters to me is having the strength to battle cancer and if I devoted any energy to deal with negative stuff, I wouldn’t have the full amount of energy needed to combat cancer.

*   Attitude is more than half the battle.  Chemo helps but if you have a bad attitude, you might be in a losing battle before you even start.

*   Fighting cancer is a team effort.   The doctors, nurses, and chemo can do only so much.  If anyone thinks that it is all up to the medical people to “fix it” or “get rid of the cancer,” that person is sadly mistaken about what it takes to battle such a horrendous disease.  You need to show up and be willing to follow the schedule including not missing appointments, taking the prescribed medications, eating healthily, getting some gentle exercise, and staying positive.   If you don’t do your part, the medical community cannot do its part either.

*  I’ve learned who truly cares about me and who doesn’t.  If truth be told, I’ve always known this but it’s a real study in sociology to see how people around me reacted when they learned that I had cancer.  Those who care about me reached out to me when they first heard “the news” and never stopped checking on me or my family.  There were some who were friendly towards me before my diagnosis and I haven’t seen or heard from them since. I am o.k. with that.  I hold no ill will towards those people.  In fact, I almost feel sorry for them because it’s painfully obvious that they have some issues that they are not dealing with but if cancer or a life-threatening illness ever affects them or one of their loved ones, “reality” is going to be a tough pill to swallow and they cannot hide from it forever.

*   Surround yourself with positive people including other cancer survivors.  I have had the benefit of seeing several family members battle some type of cancer and come through as survivors.   I would never wish the disease on anyone but I have watched them battle and win.  I also have a couple of friends and co-workers who have beaten cancer.  These people have been very supportive of me and offered me their insights, tips, and advice on dealing with cancer and all that goes with it including side effects of chemotherapy.   Cancer is real and it’s important to deal with it from the beginning with a fighting spirit and face it head-on.   If you have negative people in your life, sever those ties or at least be vocal about keeping them away.  They will only drag you down.

*   Be compassionate.  I’ve been through “the battle” and have come out on the other side as a survivor.  Recognize that others may be going through a similar battle.  Look them in the eyes, say hello, and smile.  Don’t avoid them or pretend like they aren’t there just because they may not have hair or have a round, puffy face thanks to the steroids and chemo. Please treat everyone with courtesy and respect.

*  Be good to yourself.  Understand that this is a process.  Take the time to eat healthily, get lots of sleep, slow down, and let the laundry pile up if you need to take a nap.  If you want to take a 2-hour bath, do it and don’t feel guilty about it.  Nothing is as important as taking care of YOU.

%d bloggers like this: