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Why My Cousin’s Response to My New Tumors Was Exactly What I Needed

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One of the most important things someone said to me while I was struggling was actually something negative. I had new breast tumors that didn’t look good. And with a history of a rare sarcoma, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP), my mind was drowning in anxiety. My biopsies were scheduled for later that week and it took every ounce of energy I had to pretend everything was fine when I felt the furthest from it.

I went and saw family after a medical appointment that day. And when I told my cousin about my current situation, out of every response she could have given, after everything she could have said — out of all the positive sayings and hopeful false reassurances she could have given me — she looked at me, eyes brimming with empathy, and simply said, “Well sh@!t” And then wrapped me in a massive hug. I must admit, as one who doesn’t swear much, the cursing made me laugh. But the sincerity of the statement, taking my situation for what it was, not making promises she couldn’t keep, meant everything.

I am a firm believer miracles do happen. But, in this life, some illnesses don’t go away. Some problems can’t be fixed. Some trials don’t end. Some pain is permanent. And toxically positive statements like, “it will be OK” when you or the person struggling has no control of the outcome, in my opinion, just can cause more pain.

I firmly believe the most important thing you can do in that situation is exactly what my cousin did. She sat with me in my sadness. She didn’t try to fix a situation that couldn’t be fixed. She verbally showed the situation sucked. But with that hug, with the sincerity of her statement, she showed me no matter what the outcome, she would be by my side.

Gratefully, those tumors were benign (I am currently four years cancer free), but I still live a life full of other life-threatening diseases. And through this fight against my own cells, a living a daily battle no one would sign up for, I’ve learned the most important thing someone can be is truly present to whatever situation is happening.

Whether it’s a laugh to share, a hand to hold, a curse word to be shared,
everyone needs to know no matter what what the outcome, they won’t be facing their journey alone.

Original photo by author

Originally published: May 20, 2021
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