Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lose the small talk

A friend who owns a folk art gallery nearby gifted me with a wonderful hand-carved sign that cracked me up in her store recently. Since I found it hilarious (for multiple reasons), I thought I’d show it here, rather than try to describe it.

This sign would have spoken to me at any point in my life, I’m sure. But in the throes of a battle with cancer, the last thing I’ve been able to deal with for the past half year or more is “perky”.

Mind you, I’m not looking for somber and serious and deep all the time either. It’s just that in this condition, diversions aimed to take my mind off cancer haven’t soothed; they often simply annoyed me instead. And that just left me with guilt at being rude to friends wanting to help. The end result for me has been that I tend to withdraw into myself rather than actively push people away. All of which brings out needless worry in my friends... and the cycle goes on.

Laurie Todd, whose book I reviewed last summer, describes herself as “a nice, polite, caretaking gal” her whole life… until she underwent a mammoth fight for her life against appendix cancer and her health insurance company. She recorded this outgoing voicemail at the time: “If you are a doctor with the HMO, I would like very much for you to leave a message. If you are anybody else, I DON’T GIVE A RAT’S ASS!”

Other people I know have refused to take visits from people they were seemingly close to before their illness. And when they did allow others into the room, they sometimes shut them out with silence.

It’s hard to know what to do or say in the face of cancer. It dishes up more than its share of awkward moments. But it’s a good bet that perky can easily backfire.


Anonymous said...

Ceil, thanks for quoting me ... "I don't give a rat's ass!"

This outgoing message was a pivotal moment for me. Remember, I was near-death from abdominal tumors at the time, and a zillion people were calling me on the phone.

I got blow-back from it for a year.

Some people despised me for it. One never spoke to me again. I ran into one at the grocery store after my first surgery, and she hollered and screamed at me.

Others loved it. Some people called over and over, just to listen to it.

My favorite reaction of all was: "I don't give a rat's ass what you say! I'm leaving a message anyway!"

Here I am three year's later. As long as I am doing right, and putting my life to highest and best use ...


Laurie Todd
The Insurance Warrior

Ceil said...

Despised you for it?! As in: while you were busy fighting for your life you made me feel lousy about mine... I was only trying to help... bitch. That kind of thing?

I can't imagine what goes through some people's minds. We haven't asked to be members of this "club". But once initiated, it's hard to come up with the energy to comfort those on the outside observing.

The ones who most understand that are the ones we can relate to best, like your friend who said "I'm leaving a message anyway!"