When I was first diagnosed with Cancer, my friend Rebecca Ryan immediately came to me and offered to be my support group ‘Project Manager’. It was such a gift from her, offering her time to do this. Knowing I wouldn’t have the energy or time to organize support, mass communicate, or plan logistics, Rebecca came in and took over that leadership role. She was so helpful, and really aided in my healing process. I can’t thank her enough.
We caught up recently, and Rebecca was inspired to write a follow-up Q&A piece. She told me after that she learned many things about herself during the period of my Cancer treatment, and even had some take-aways from our Q&A session. I hope this Q&A does the same for you.
When Pamela was first diagnosed with cancer, I did a bunch of research on how to be a good friend to someone with cancer. One of the things that struck me was the large number of cancer patients who said that once they were through treatment, their friends disappeared. I vowed to myself, “That’s not going to happen for me.”
So here we are, seven months after this roller coaster started. P-Dub and I were recently on the phone talking about her BALLER poker tournament, fashion, her boobs (of course), and other shit women talk about when we’re just talkin’. And I asked Pamela, “Would you be willing to do a Q&A for your care team, to sort of summarize what the last months have really been like, and to give us some advice for how to support you in the future?”
Of course, she said yes. And her voice shines through in her answers.
Q: What was the funniest moment during the cancer process?
A: I think it’s more of a cumulative effect. So many people have had access to my bare chest over the past 7 months, I could walk around topless and care less. It’s actually kind of funny. I don’t even bother with the robe now when I go to see doctors. I should move to Europe.
Q: What was the longest or most terrifying moment?
A: The most terrifying time was when I was first diagnosed and we learned that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. We didn’t know if or how far it had spread beyond my chest. That was a 3 week period of getting MRI’s on all my vital organs, pelvis and head. It was a very emotional time for my husband and I. We were forced to deal with the the possibility that I just might not be around much longer, and at a minimum, the next steps were going to suck. We were either at home together or at the hospital and didn’t want to speak to anyone. It was awful. Seeing my husband so scared and emotional was so difficult.
Q: What did you learn about your cats, from being home with them all day?
A: Let the people and animals I know that I love them. And do it regularly and show them. Forgive quickly. Take my needed alone time and take more naps.
Q: I read that you used some of your convalescence to really bone up on your poker game…and then you WON the first tournament you played, the first weekend you left home after treatment!! What’s the biggest improvement you made to your poker game during convalescence?
A: I did watch a lot of poker TV and tutorials by some of my poker idols. From that I learned some new strategy, and things that I was doing wrong. I adjusted and adopted into my first tournament. What’s funny though is that my frame of mind going into the tournament was fearless, ready to play my best and be patient. I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘I didn’t care’ the outcome. But I kind of felt like, I have been through 7 months of some tough stuff physically and mentally, so ‘this’ is no big deal. I think my frame of mind honestly was such a key variable to me winning.
Q: I’ve heard that “you learn a lot about your friends”. Obviously, this (your) Facebook care team you have crushed it, but what do you want people to know, if they ever have another loved one who’s faced what you’re facing? How can they be a terrific supporter?
A: This is very true.
My suggestion would be just say and do something. Don’t be scared of saying the wrong or perfectly right thing. Just say something. Send a card, an email, a text. Anything.
I would also say don’t put the burden back onto the person dealing with the issue. Things like ‘let me know what I can do to help’, or ‘keep me posted’ does not help. It makes it worse, now there’s pressure on me to do the work. My very clever, thoughtful and intuitive friends make succinct offerings that made sense such as: ‘Can I call some vendors for you to cancel your orders’, ‘Can I bring you some lunch today’, ‘I’m sending you a book, what’s your favorite genre’, ‘I’m heading to Community Pharmacy, do you need any natural soap’, ‘Can I drive you to radiation today’. And don’t offended if I say no.
One of my best friends flew up for a weekend post surgery to give my husband a much needed break and take over nursing duties. It was great timing. It was great for my soul too.
Everyone has a cancer story too, or someone they know going through something similar. One of my recommendations is to share stories with caution. The reason being many people, unintentionally made it a competition ie; well so and so had stage 3 breast cancer and had to go through chemo etc. While I empathize with that, minimizing what I’m going through is not helping, it’s pissing me off, and making me not want to talk to you.
I also didn’t mind people offering suggestions about alternative treatments, but passing judgement on the course of treatment I did choose, did not help at all. It also aggravated me.
I know this sounds a little negative, but I’m being honest and if it can help others maybe rethink about how they can support someone going through something similar, then that is great.
Q: You mentioned that you’ve gained some weight from being inactive during convalescence. Do you regret requesting all those cookies?
A: Yes. Yes and yes. Big time. I was sedentary for months and consuming thousands of empty calories in addition to my healthy diet. What a mistake. It’s going to take me twice as long to take it off as it did to put it on. Moderation would have been smarter.
Q: What’s ONE THING you want everyone to take away from this experience?
A: The most important thing (to me) is time. Not material possessions, not money, not a frenetic career, not trying to impossibly keep up with peripheral friends and commitments. Rather, enjoy the time that I have, in the best quality of life that I can, and with those that I love the most. My husband and I are closer now, love each other so much and just want to spend time doing great things. If our actions can benefit other people in some way, even better,
Long answer to easy answer. The most valuable thing is Time and how I choose to use it.
Q: I read somewhere that after a patient is done with treatment, a lot of support just disappears. What can we do to continue to support you?
A: This is true.
I had already made it a habit to reach out to friends a month, and three months after a death in the family or after a bad break-up. This is the time when everyone else has disappeared, but the pain, loneliness etc is still very in front of that person. I think the same applies here too. I really needed help month 5 during tail end of radiation. I was in so much pain, miserable, wore out emotionally, and really needed a friend to talk to. Unfortunately a lot of friends were top heavy at diagnosis and surgery time, then waned off. A couple were exceptional however.
My advice would be to be aware of this. If you have a friend dealing with some long term trauma, check in down the path and along the way. Set a calendar reminder if you have to. Believe me, that acknowledgement and help will make the world of difference.
About Rebecca Ryan @ngcrebecca
Best-selling author, economist and futurist.
Rebecca Ryan is a human spark-plug.
Part futurist, part economist, and always engaging, Rebecca is one of America’s most influential thought leaders, helping cities and companies think around the corner to what’s next.
Rebecca Ryan is the author of ReGENERATION: A Manifesto for America’s Future Leaders (2013) and Live First, Work Second: Getting Inside the Head of the Next Generation (2007). As founder and coowner of Next Generation Consulting, Ryan leads the team that best-selling author Richard Florida calls, “One of the most reliable sources for leaders who want to attract and retain the next generation of creative workers.
Ryan is the Resident Futurist at the Alliance for Innovation and a Senior Fellow at CEOs for Cities. She serves on the board of the World Academy for Entrepreneurship & Enterprise (WAE2) and has also been named:
- Top 100 Most Influential People, Accounting Today
- Communicator of the Year, Women in Communication
- Woman of Influence, Business Journal of Greater Milwaukee
- Entrepreneur of the Year, U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Ryan lives in Madison, Wisconsin.