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severe illness


Under the category of ‘Who Knew’, severe illness opens the door to compassion. And it’s not all about you.


Talk between cancer survivors is one thing; talk between a cancer survivor and someone untouched launches other topics. Some survivors are good listeners, others see the open door and rush right through.


That means either two people talking at the same time, or one is talking and one listening. Tip to all survivors of severe illness, be a good listener.


And don’t judge when a non-survivor goes off on their own train of thought. Especially don’t judge when this happens:
An acquaintance asked how I was doing. Maybe I’d already mentioned HPV16 neck cancer. If I did, they forgot. They focused on my weight loss, which is pretty dramatic.


I’ve heard I’ve got a scary face now. I kind of like the idea of a scary face, though I don’t see it. I told the guy my weight is steady around 205, down from maybe 265 after bulking up for the treatment marathon.


“That’s a lot of weight to lose,” he said.


“It comes with chemoradiation cancer treatment, along with the usuals in neck cancer, like not swallowing things.”


“Right, throat cancer is it?”


“It was HPV16 throat cancer.”


“I’m not sure I know that one.”


“It’s the Michael Douglas sexually transmitted cancer.”


“Really? I remember that, but I have my doubts about the cause.”


“I don’t, and you wouldn’t if you had it.”


“But the science is fuzzy, isn’t it?”


“Probably from your point of view, but not from medical science. From the side I’m on it’s pretty clear.”


“How do you get it again?”


“In graphic terms, oral sex with an HPV16 infected partner.”


“Come on, you believe that?”


A severe illness doubter?


This is where emotions can play a part, but it’s important to not unleash any pent up anxieties on innocent skeptics. Even those afflicted with HPV16 cancer are sometimes skeptics. They usually end up with an unfavorable result, which is to say they die.


But that’s not the issue in conversations with those untouched by a severe illness that requires and equally severe treatment. In my book in progress, LICKING CANCER, A Complete Response, I will address such conversations the way we address dirty rugs. I’ll be giving it a good shake.


The man asking about what I believe is an accomplished person in their field. To help them understand what they asked, I said, “Imagine someone not as skilled, or skilled at all, in your field doubting your work. I’m no doctor, but doubting them with your life on the line is a good way to fail.”


“Not the same at all.”


“Because you think so, but from what you say, you’re not a doctor either, am I right?”


“Of course not, but what’s that got to do with anything.”


“If you taught a class in your field and had a student unable to grasp the concepts you lay out, you’d fail them.”


“Yes, they’d fail.”


“Well, in my case I was the student and I couldn’t fail. Failure equals death.”


Severe illness doesn’t always register


“Why such drama?”


“Cancer can be dramatic, and I hope you never find out. But if you do and want to talk, I’d listen.”


“That’s nice.”


“I’d listen and find a way to lend support instead of skepticism. That’s how it works in that world.”


“News flash, we all live in the same world.”


“Yes, different parts of the same world, and I hope your world never changes. You’d have trouble.”


“Why do you say that?”


“Cancer treatment is full of doubters, skeptics, just like you. Some make it, some don’t. The medical staff who sees it everyday have an idea of will survive and who won ‘t by they way they walk in the first day.”


“Really. Is this more fuzzy science?”


“Closer to reality science. If you come in a downer, where do you go? Down. Everybody goes down in treatment, down where they’ve never been. Where you’ve never been. Some come up afterwards, some not. You’d have problems.”


“I don’t think so.”


“With any luck, you’ll never have to find out.”
About David Gillaspie
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