Read through almost any pamphlet in a cancer center, dig deep into the Internet, read a very good cancer blog, or talk to counselors about your disease, and you will find answers. All those sources are very good at getting information to you — the cancer patient. You're the one who had a ton of hurt dropped on you, and you're the one who has a hard struggle ahead of you. Much has been said and written about how you should approach and withstand this major crisis in your life.

Only in very rare situations does a cancer patient face cancer alone. In most cases, there is a primary caregiver with the patient. This is usually a spouse, a partner, children, siblings, parents, or close friends who stand with the cancer patient and experience much of the pain and sadness of the patient. Those are the "other" faces in the room with the cancer patient, and often, their faces silently speak many types of messages. Some faces show sadness or sorrow. Others show hopelessness and helplessness. Happily, some faces show reassurance and confidence.

Then, beyond the circle of family and friends, there are more faces people show when they find out you have cancer or catch a glimpse of you during treatment. Some of these faces belong to people who obviously never got the "Gift of Compassion" and probably shouldn't show their face to anyone who is sick.

They're the ones who find new ways to wrinkle their face the first time they see the effects chemotherapy has had on you; it's that look that makes you think your appearance is just shy of ghastly. It's that "what's wrong with you ..." look, but they won't ask how you are, or if they can help. Then, as it sometimes is with people at work, it's that look of coldness, annoyance or resentment. Those faces do nothing but remind you you're sick and you're in a struggle.

As a cancer patient, you will learn there is always another face in the room. In time, you'll learn how to read those faces, and which ones to ignore. My wife's face was always very calming to me, but there were a few times when I saw some worry in her eyes. One of the hardest things for me to get over during my cancer battle was seeing that look of pain in a family member's eyes.

When you see those looks, don't be afraid to be honest and to let people know how you're doing and how you're feeling. My wife and I spent a lot of time talking about how I was feeling and what was next in treatment. Talking helped us help each other. Immediately following my first brain surgery, when 25 staples were holding my head together, we talked about that elephant in the room: what we might hear in the coming days regarding the surgery, findings and the possibility of a spreading disease. Scary as that moment was, we remained positive and celebrated the fact that I'd made it through surgery successfully and I would recover.

This blog entry is for both cancer patients and primary caregivers. The old saying "A picture is worth 1,000 words" holds true for faces too. Patients, you will get funny looks, stupid looks, scary looks, sad looks and looks that just say "holy crap!" Find the humor in the stupid looks, and when you see a scared look on those closest to you, recognize their pain as they help you with yours. Caregivers, always bring a face of hope, understanding and compassion with you.

Now, for both patient and caregiver, remember to talk and talk and talk with each other. Talking helps you stay positive and remain hopeful. Talking helps you cling to faith and share words of encouragement. Talking helps you to recognize each step of success and helps you keep your thoughts on life and living — even when you're surrounded by a great unpleasantness.


Share Your Thoughts

What "faces" have you seen since your diagnosis? How have you reacted to them? Share your comments below.

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About the Author

Paul J. Lawonn has more than 37 years of industrial safety and leadership experience and has provided consulting to more than 100 companies. Prior to his cancer diagnosis in 2005, Paul led the safety function at Harley Davidson’s Milwaukee power train operations manufacturing plant. His last position with Harley was corporate safety manager for compliance and employee training. He was diagnosed in 2005 with mantle-cell lymphoma but waged a successful nine- year battle and is now cancer-?free. Paul’s priority now is on inspirational and motivational speaking, writing, and coaching. He is particularly fervent about donating his time to charities that finance and fuel cancer research and organizations that provide assistance to cancer patients and their families. He’s written a guide to fighting cancer that he calls “Seven Steps to Persistent Perseverance.” 

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