With the reverberations of Kellergate (Marie’s blog, here is a good place to start) still echoing around the ether last week, the debate over how we talk about living and dying with cancer continued to surge as we were challenged to think deeply about our own fears and behaviours when confronted with the harsh reality of mortality.
I’ve always considered myself up front and honest – ok, if we’re being really honest, let’s call it like it is and say I prided myself on being brutal – about cancer and it’s treatments, and I have plenty to say about the words that really matter when talking about it. In the real world, I mean – where I can touch the people I’m talking to and wipe away the tears. My first cancer was waaaayyyy before Berners-Lee would write the magic code that now brings souls across the world together, and Facebook was still five years into the future by my second.
Nevertheless, I’d been honing my brutal conversation skills for thirty-odd years before cancers three and four, so imagine my surprise, as I mulled over the those ill-judged editorials, when I realised it had taken an online friendship with another Lisa to force my deepest introspection about living through cancer, and the looming possibility of death.
As we ‘talked’ in the months before she died I found that, despite all my openness and cock-sure experience, when it came to having a truly honest conversation with a frightened girl who was dying, a girl who fought down rising panic along with bile at the treatments she endured to eke out a little more time with those she loved, I – was a bit stuck for words.
The truth was, I’d been the centre of my cancerworld for so long I’d forgotten what it was like not to be the one in the deepest cr*p, and that rather stopped me in my tracks.
And this was Lisa’s gift. I had to reach deep, admit to my own fears – and then listen. Try to understand what it was like to be her, and not me. And that’s where we connected, because she felt some of those things too. And our worlds expanded a little because the other was in it.
How ironic that someone who thought herself so trapped by dread could teach so profoundly of courage.