When someone tells you they’re having chemo they have told you nothing

Here is one more post on cancer stimulated by my friend Steve Buttry.

Between his Twitter account @stevebuttry and his Caring Bridge entries Steve is, as I said on his Caring Bridge account, “the patron saint of transparency.”

Steve is convinced he can help people by explaining his struggle. Obviously, as someone who has just written a candid book called “Some People Even Take Them Home:” A Disabled Dad, a Down syndrome Son and Our Journey to Acceptance, I also believe the power of our personal stories are the best teachers.

This week Steve wrote a fascinating post on the drugs that fight the drugs that fight the cancer. The post reminded me of a major truth I learned during my late wife Jean’s encounter with cancer: When someone tells you they are getting chemo, they have told you nothing.

I share this truth in the hope it will educate and edify friends and loved ones. Do not assume anything when your friend tells you they are getting chemo.

Jean and I used to sit in a chemo infusion lab for six to seven hours while she received two really tough drugs and an antidote three times a month. Right next to us would be a man who was getting thirty straight days of chemo and next to him would be a woman who was getting a monthly treatment. And then there are people like Steve who have in-patient chemo treatment.

The chemo drugs are very different too in their side effects and their potency. Some people suffer intense pain and discomfort. Others find themselves consumed in a battle between hope and despair. Not to put too fine a point on it, but chemo sucks.

When Jean and I started her chemotherapy regimen I admit I naively believed the process was much gentler than it turned out to be for her. I guess I had a false faith in how far the science of chemotherapy had come.

I lost Jean despite the chemo and I am sure that is why when I hear someone is undergoing the treatment a little piece of my soul chips away. I now have an empathy that comes from being the spouse of a chemo patient who couldn’t defy the odds. Of course, that makes me sad, but even more important to my personal character is now I can truly feel for the chemo patient.

My only point here is when you hear those words “I have to have chemo,” don’t assume a walk in the park, but don’t assume a horror show either. Be gentle in your assumptions, cautious with your questions, complete in your empathy and pray like hell.