Saturday, March 20, 2010

When words are badly used

I went to a St. Patrick's day celebration Wednesday at a downtown law firm. I've been invited to this party for almost as many years as the firm has been in existence. I knew the founding partner when he initially set up his first firm back in 1981 and the economy was so hard, he went for 5 months without being able to pay his mortgage. But with time, all of our circumstances have changed. He and the other named partner in the current firm are very successful litigators with a thriving practice, and they share their good fortune and their joy with their colleagues every year.

I wanted to go to the celebration but I dreaded it as well. It is not easy to see folks for the first time since diagnosis and tell them of your status. I went early before the bagpiper showed up, so I could be heard.

As it turned out, when I got there, I first saw another attorney who works in a separate division in my own office, who I also had not seen in quite awhile. We exchanged greetings, and her immediate response to my changed voice was, "Are you dying?" She probably thought I was recovering from a bad cold and being cute, because when I explained that, no, I had lung cancer, she became embarrassed and very effusive in a somewhat uncomfortable way. And I ended up comforting her. Which is exactly how it felt, and what I did when I told Bob several minutes later that I had cancer. It so wore me out emotionally, those two encounters, that I simply had to turn around and leave the celebration. And I'm still trying to sort it out and deal with the unintended, yet difficult emotions that sprang up as a result of those interactions.

I wasn't going to write about this directly because, again, I think that I prefer to put a happy face forward to you, my dear, silent readers. But, that is also taking care of you, not me. I read an article on a NYT blog this am, steered there by a fellow cancer sufferer on And I want each and every one of you who read me and are a friend of mine to please read this article. I'd like to post it in its entirety but cannot figure out how to contact the author and obtain permission. So in its place here is the cite:

Please read it. It deals with how we have, by our timid and shallow use of language and communication, shortchanged all of us as we confront cancer and dying.

Thank you.


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