Today I'm starting a new blog series called "The C Word". It's about that 5 letter word we all hate: Cancer. A while back, I received an email - a fellow photographer asking for advice about photographing a cancer patient. A new thought jumped into my brain, and after reaching out for help and much prayer, I've decided to start a new blog series; a series based on providing tips for people and other photographers who might be dealing with people/families with cancer. I'm praying God will use this.
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.
Tip #1: We're All Different.
Different? What a concept, right? Not everyone handles this the same way. We all cope - but our responses can vary drastically, much like the disease itself. We all have different stories. Some people have close friends - support systems - while others face it alone. Some are young when diagnosed, and some are not. Some people are extremely discouraged and fight depression, some reason through it intellectually, some hunker down and fight their hearts out, while others seem to live their lives to the fullest with incomprehensible joy (Or so it seems).
The truth is, we all have moments of each emotion. Moments that are completely unpredictable. Waves of heaviness can creep in no matter what. Tears threaten at the oddest times (why am I crying in the middle of the airport??), because sometimes our hearts are just groaning. Groaning with emotions that can't be described. Each of us in a different way, longing to be understood.
Here's where the tip comes in: we are not the same. No one handles cancer the same way, with the same emotions, at the same time. This is probably just as hard for us to grasp as it is for you.
Don't assume, ask.
This first struck me the day dad was diagnosed with cancer - October 27, 2009. My brother and I were home from school, eating supper with my parents, trying to figure out what to say. Had it not been for my two young nieces happily babbling on about their food, the room would've been silent.
My emotion? Heaviness.
My mother's emotion? Tears.
My father's emotion? Solid strength.
My brother's emotion? Humor.
You see, my brother loves to make people laugh. He loves to lighten hard or awkward situations with a joke. A joke along the lines of... "So dad... if you die, can I have the car?"
He'll never live that one down.
But did it work? Did we laugh? You bet. It broke the silence, cut through the heaviness and after glaring fiercely at him for a few seconds, we all managed to chuckle. Of course he wasn't serious. He was being "hilariously" realistic. He was coping. He was breaking the heaviness by slicing it with humor. He was dealing with it differently than the rest of us. And it was exactly what we needed.
Don't assume, ask. When you ask people how they're doing, being specific may help. "What emotion are you dealing with most this week?" can be a whole lot easier to answer than, "How are you doing?". Be open minded. Again, some people may cope the same way and respond with the same emotions - but never assume. Even now there are people I've met that handle their cancer in a completely different way than my family. And that's ok. Always ask first...
Because we're all different.