This 4-Letter Word Gives Me Comfort Through Cancer

Writing about my cancer diagnosis is easy for me, maybe too easy. Talking about it, however, is more daunting and I try to avoid it.

But I recently got a taste of how talking about it can help.

A friend who is dealing with the grief of a family tragedy has stopped by a couple times to check on me — when I should be checking on him.

The last time he came by we sat in the shade in lawn chairs, our dogs close by. We chatted about someone we both know who is being ravaged by the disease ALS. This man has an unsinkably sunny disposition. He’s a marvel to experience. The disease has ended his ability to speak, yet he still smiles.

That’s when I said I was having trouble being upbeat and cheerful. I was unable to overcome the drag of daily pain and the anticipation of what was to come. Not death — the ugly time between now and then.

My friend understood immediately and quickly dismissed my concern. “We can only be who we are,” he said. His dog shoved her way between the lawn chairs and nudged him for a rub.

Our ALS acquaintance, he continued, was always a happy, outgoing and cheerful guy.

“But that’s not me,” my friend said while massaging the dog’s head. “I don’t even pretend to try to be upbeat. I’m not that kind of person.” He smiled — a wry, weary thing.

The pooch leaned towards me, hoping for more attention. As I obliged, this man said he had tried a support group but it wasn’t for him. He did, however, make contact with someone who had experienced a similar tragedy. They have met and now write to each other weekly.

This connection, however, has nothing to do with cheering anyone up. In fact, he said his messages to his new friend are all signed, “Fuck.”

“On a particularly bad day it’s fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said.

At times we were both scratching the dog as we confided how difficult it is to escape a dark hole. My own grumpily aging pooch was asleep in the grass, intentionally out of reach.

What does get the man with ALS down, my friend said, was when he talked — by email — about the effect of his disease on his family. Yes, I agreed — that’s the worst and the biggest concern.

As much as I would like to be a ray of sunshine and keep my family laughing, it’s going to be an occasional thing. And for my wife who has to deal with my long silences and dark moods, I can only apologize.


This post was originally published on Closing in on 30.

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