Today I'm continuing my series called the C Word: A series based on providing tips for people and other photographers who might be dealing with people/families with cancer. Disclaimer: These are my thoughts and opinions. My goal is to help people understand more about those with cancer – their journey and their thoughts. I’m not an expert by any means – my father was diagnosed with cancer only 3 years ago – but I feel as though this may be helpful to some. Take or leave it.
To get caught up in the series, you can read Tip #1 here.
Tip #2: Admit You Don't Understand.
I remember when I had to tell my friends dad had been diagnosed with cancer. I used the easy approach - Facebook status update and mass texting. The less interaction with people the better (at least I thought so). Because in reality, being the one telling the awful news is almost as bad as being the one hearing the awful news. One word: Awkward. You know the feeling. Your best friend's dog just died and you don't know whether to look on the bright side, or to hold them as they cry? Yeah. Pretty awkward feeling, huh?
Over the years (only 3 years, but it feels like an eternity), it's become less awkward to tell people; I'm a bit more comfortable. However, there are some responses that are really hard for me to hear. Like this one: Oh, I totally understand how that feels! My pet turtle (or insert obnoxiously lame situation here) died of cancer last week and it was really hard on me.
Here's where I go back to Tip #1: We're all different. We all handle situations differently... and it's great when you want to comfort someone and tell them you know exactly how they feel. But often... you don't. You just really don't get it. It's completely unknown to you. And unknowns are scary places to go.
Here's what YOU can do: Tell them you don't understand (even if you think you do, you don't). This sets the ground work for vulnerability and honesty. If you're honest with them about your complete lack of experience/knowledge with this, they may be more willing to be honest and vulnerable with you about how they feel.
Here's what else you can do: Be humble. The last thing someone needs is for you to think you know everything. Respect their situation - be humble. In my experience, the easiest people to open up to are the people that are the most humble and gentle. Even though I may know a little bit about cancer and what it feels like to be affected by it, I still do my very best to be humble and respectful when speaking with someone else that either has cancer, or their family has been affected by it.
Here's another thing to think about: Ask them if it's ok if you ask them questions. If they say no, STOP. If they agree, ask them the awkward, uncomfortable questions that no one likes to think about. Like, What does it feel like? How are you really doing? Are you scared?
By asking questions in a humble, respectful way, it shows them you're genuinely interested. Remember, unknowns are scary places. But this is an unknown for them too - they've never done this before either! Be honest, be humble, and if you know them well enough (and they're willing), dive into those hard questions. They may just need to open up and share what's on their heart.