when i first got sick, i told people in groups rather than everyone altogether; i wanted to tell the people i was closest to first, so they heard it from me rather than through a mutual friend (and if i’m honest i just couldn’t handle the number of questions and texts i’d have had to answer all at once). most people replied with questions; how long had I had it for? what treatment were they going to give me? how long until i got an ‘all clear’. lots of people sent messages of concern, and have checked in with me for updates on a regular basis. and there were a handful of people who took what seemed an age to respond and didn’t ask any questions, and i knew right away that when i got better those people wouldn’t be a part of my life anymore.
when you’re diagnosed with something like Cancer you really do find out who your real friends are. it’s one of those defining things – the people you know get split into two camps: those who don’t want you to die, and those who really couldn’t give a shit. it’s pretty harsh to label people that way but it’s harsh to deal with from the other side too. i mean, you’re basically telling people you’re dying unless you’re one of the lucky ones the treatment works for. and some of the people you know rush to your side, and other’s you don’t hear from again. not until you see them again at a show they didn’t expect you to be going to (because you’re dying, right?) and they look at you shiftily and you smile but ignore them mostly for the rest of the night. because you kind of know they’d either already written you off and are doing that ‘survival of the fittest’ thing or else they didn’t care anyway.
i’m feeling a little bitter today, you might have guessed.
it’s just easy to feel that way when there are friends who live far away, friends who have way more than their fair share of stuff on their plate already, people you are friends with but barely know, who come to your house and see how you are and send you cards and take you out for the day or do your shopping for you and hang around the hospital with you – or at least offer to if you need it; and then there are people you should be close to at this point, who disappear almost completely.
i’ve tried to look at this from the other side. of how i would be in the same situation. and i know i wouldn’t disappear. after the show, my friend apologised before we said goodbye. she said she’d been silent because she didn’t know what to say. i smiled and nodded and told her a few people had been the same. what i didn’t tell her was how disappointing that was as an excuse. if you give a crap, you get out of your comfort zone – because let’s face it, it’s not like it’s going to be a comfortable topic for anyone involved. i didn’t tell her that my opinion of her was changed forever because of the silence in my time of need, and that next time she needs anything she’ll be much lower on my list of priorities. i didn’t tell her how much it hurt that she didn’t offer to visit before i started my treatment, or during, when i was feeling low. i’ll be seeing her again at the weekend. i know already it’ll be a drain for me. i just don’t want to waste my time with her anymore; i know who she is to me now.
if someone tells you they’re sick, or that someone close to them is sick, or that someone close has died – in fact, any form of bad news – they’re telling you because you’re in the privileged position of being someone they would care about in the same situation. if you care, you call, or you email, or you text the person and you tell them how you feel. you tell them you don’t know what to say, or how to act, and they’ll tell you they don’t know either, and laugh nervously on the other end of the phone until they’ve cheered you up instead of the other way around. what you say doesn’t have to be the most profound thing in the world, or the funniest, or the answer to their problems. you just have to be on the other end of the line.
all you have to do is Say Anything.
that’s all they need.