After the initial consultation with the doctor that took the biopsy and diagnosed my cancer, all we could do was helplessly wait. That was a longest few days of my life—waiting for an answer with my life in the balance, not knowing how much longer I had on this earth. I did my best to keep my head down and focus on staying positive for my wife and kids. Feeling sorry about it wasn’t going to do anything, so we did our best to carry out our lives as normally as possible (impossible). Sleepless nights and aimless conversations playing the what-if game. Such wasted effort and time but the uncertainty consumes you. And to make it worse, we wanted to keep these preliminary results private except from immediate family, in case the doctor misdiagnosed my condition. This made it tough as well because I refrained from opening up to my closest friends initially, until we were sure. I also did not want to burden my wife with my personal concerns, because she had plenty of her own equal in weight to mine.
"Feeling sorry about it wasn’t going to do anything, so we did our best to carry out our lives as normally as possible (impossible). Sleepless nights and aimless conversations playing the what-if game. Such wasted effort and time but the uncertainty consumes you."
Those first days were an internal struggle. The possible realities of dying young and leaving my family behind, or living and potentially having a facial deformity, including unknown speech and swallowing impediments, were a lot for me to wrap my head around. I kept most of my thoughts to myself and prayed, asking God to provide our family the grace and strength to fulfill His will. And in confidentiality at my church, I have had the privilege of receiving numerous prayers on my behalf, over miracle working icons and holy relics, as well as being anointed with miracle working oils and myrrh. I specifically went to visit a renowned monk in Flagstaff, Arizona known for the power of his prayer and blessings. With our trust in God, my wife and I leaned on each other and our immediate family in this time of uncertainty.
"As much as you can be the listener and not the talker. There are many things that the patient may want to avoid speaking about, and allowing them to control the flow of the conversation will keep them in control of the topic."
When speaking with someone before treatment, it is mostly important to determine if they are ready to talk. This may take some gentle prodding, but this is a job that someone needs to do especially if the patient is having a hard time opening up. As much as you can be the listener and not the talker. There are many things that the patient may want to avoid speaking about, and allowing them to control the flow of the conversation will keep them in control of the topic. If you have a personal question of them, lead with, “I hope you don’t mind my asking” or “are you comfortable discussing…” Also pay attention to body language to gauge their level of anxiety and comfort while in the conversation. If the patient isn’t feeling the conversation, wish them luck, tell them you will be thinking or praying for them, and politely end the conversation. And those of you who are cancer patients, if you don’t feel comfortable on a given topic, speak up. This is your journey and you have every right to be in control of who knows what about you. ALWAYS, be your own advocate to your peers and especially to your medical team. And if the patient is unable to do so, they need their spouse, significant other or close friends to ensure they are advocated for. There is no formula for addressing a cancer patient but ideally, in the end of the conversation if they feel thought of and cared for, and can count on you to check back in with them, anyone would be encouraged. It is always nice to know that people are thinking about you and have your best interest in mind, but avoid over-doing it or turning it into a pity party.