A large family gathered around dinner together

Cancer, The Holidays, and Friends and Family

You know, with the holidays approaching again (geeze, it seems like they come every year, doesn’t it?) I think it would be good to review some of the situations that are going to come up with family and friends that you may be seeing for the first time in a while. While we all have eccentric and unique characters that inhabit our social circle, there are certain archetypes that you will be dealing with that tend to be ubiquitous wherever you go and whatever your family looks like – be it related by blood or bonded by shared experience – a family is a family is a family.

Talking about your cancer at the holidays

I think we all know that no one gets under our skin quite like those close to us. Why? Well, because they know where the secret buttons are that drive you up the wall, and they don’t skimp on the pressin’ boy howdy. In other words, no one drives you nuts like friends and loved ones, and especially now that you are dealing with blood cancer, it’s only going to make it that much more likely that someone will eventually launch those emotional nuclear missiles. Who will it be? Let’s run down the list.

The "Me, too" relative

First, we have the “Oh me, too!” friend or relative. Usually a cousin or a sibling, this person just can’t stand to let you have anything to yourself, even cancer. When you are asked about your illness or how things are going, they will inevitably chime in with a “Oh, I know! I totally get that as well.” Really? You get mouth sores as well? And also, your hair falls out?"

It doesn’t matter how awful, embarrassing, disgusting, or unique your symptoms are, and they always seem to have something “equivalent.” Or so they claim. Unfortunately, cuz, your mishap at the hair salon doesn’t even come close to my chemo-induced hair loss, but I’m sure you’ll try to make it all about you anyway!

"Did ya try this remedy?"

Next up, there’s what I call the “home remedy tonic salesman,” peddling their snake-oil cures and old-wives tale sourced remedies for whatever ails ya, which, in this case, is cancer. Turmeric, apricot pits, bee stings, cherry juice mixed with arsenic – the list goes on and on, but they are always ready to bend your ear for hours with the latest and greatest cancer fix that they so thoughtfully researched for you. On the Internet. From a Facebook post. That got the poster put in Facebook jail. But it works, I swear!

"I saw a doctor on TV"

Our third holiday character is one who usually is a grandparent or a parent, but it can be almost anyone. It’s the one I like to call the “shock-and-awe”-at-everything-you-do person. This constantly-surprised individual has learned everything they know about blood cancer from TV shows and other media, and they are absolutely floored that someone who has cancer can actually do anything at all. Well, other than lay in a bed in the living room while smiling weakly and whispering small bits of conversation while intermittently puking their guts out. They say things like “Are you sure?” and “You can do that?” often and will absolutely refuse to let you do anything yourself, going so far as to follow you into the bathroom if you let them. Uhh, thanks, I think I’ll be fine, don’t worry, I won’t fall in.

The no-where-to-be-seen relative

Finally, the last friends and family circle member you will likely be dealing with is the one simply referred to as “the ghost.” I think you can figure out this one on your own, but just in case you can’t, it’s the person who used to be very close to you, but now, suddenly, since you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, they have all but vanished. Like the smoke outline in a Scooby-Doo cartoon, they disappear faster than money at Disneyworld whenever you and your pesky cancer come around. Are they afraid to face their own mortality? Are they reminded of past cancer-related trauma? Do they just not like people wearing scarves on their heads? Who can say? Probably the first one, but whatever the reason, they just seem not to want to be around you, your cancer, or anything related to it peripherally.

Dealing with family and friends when you have cancer isn’t easy, and when the holidays come around, it makes things that much more difficult. Cancer is already a heavy lift and a huge mental burden, and drumming up the energy to socialize and deal with the various archetypes of people around you can be overwhelming. Just remind yourself that people are just that – human, and they do human things. More than likely, they do have your best interests at heart, and they don’t wish you ill, but their very human emotions get in the way. So, keep that in mind and remember – have a wonderful holiday, whatever you celebrate! Talk soon.

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