Who among us hasn't experienced the awkward moment when a well-meaning person utters something inane (or insane) in response to our discussing our cancer treatment or diagnosis (and/or our mental, physical or emotional processing of the two)? You know, the verbiage that doesn't stay inside their head but is inappropriately spilled out onto yours. And you, as the cancer patient, are left feeling unheard, misunderstood, and thinking, Did he/she really just say that?
Many bloggers have written about "What to Say to Someone With Cancer" because it is such a common occurrence. Anyone who has had cancer can probably rattle off not one, but numerous crazy comments tendered their way, ranging from "But you look good!" to "Oh yeah, my [co-worker's wife, great aunt, brother's brother-in-law, best friend's father, uncle's ex-wife, you-fill-in-who] died of cancer."
Just when I thought I had read every angle about this timely topic, I came across an enlightening (albeit six-months-old) Op-Ed on the Los Angeles Times' website that I just had to share.
The writers of the Op-Ed succinctly solve a very dicey dilemma — the one where otherwise intelligent people freeze up and say really stupid (and sometimes hurtful) stuff. To your face. In the face of crisis. Your crisis. Oops.
The piece, entitled, "How Not to Say the Wrong Thing," was penned by Susan Silk (a clinical psychologist) and Barry Goldman (an arbitrator and mediator). Together they address common blunderings with ablomb. They refer to it as "The Ring Theory of Kvetching." Brilliant.
There are a few simple steps to their theory.
1. The first: "Draw a circle," say Silk and Goldman. "This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma."
2. The second is just as simple: Draw a larger circle around the first circle you drew. "In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma," they instruct. Easy enough.
3. The third step takes a tad more thought as you continue to pen more and more circles, as Silk and Goldman explain: "Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones."
Once you have completed your concentric circles, you have what Silk and Goldman call a "Kvetching Order." And the Kvetching Order is key, as it holds the secret to what to say to someone with cancer. I can't reveal their secrets. For that, you have to read their Op-Ed on the LA Times website HERE yourself. (Trust me. It's so brilliant you'll wish you had thought of it yourself.)
Now go kvetch. Correctly.