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November 11, 2015


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Joni Rodgers

I definitely experienced the 'conspicuous by their absence' phenomenon she speaks of, and of course, Wendy, you're right -- everyone has to handle these issues in the way that works for her/himself -- but I wonder if that email blast would do more harm than good in most situations. She says these are casual friends, not her besties, and she doesn't spend a moment wondering if some difficult thing might be going on in their lives. Phone lines go both ways. She could have reached out to them with a more compassionate response and saved the friendships, because I'd bet paper money it wasn't that her friends were actively avoiding her; they just didn't know what to say and didn't want to intrude or say the wrong thing. When people ask me what they should say to a friend with cancer, I tell them, "Anything you say is wrong, and if you say nothing, you're a terrible person." It's a minefield! Give a pal a break.

Wendy S. Harpham, M.D.

Thank you, Joni.

In my post, I relayed Miele's approach without sharing my discomfort. I just added a final line and will address more fully in future posts.

Unless clinical brain disease makes you unable to control what you say or do, illness is not a pass to be insensitive to the needs of others, including family, friends and the members of your healthcare team.

susan chizeck

It's hard to know what to say to someone with cancer other than how sorry you are they are going thru this. I said something to someone which was taken completely wrong and got yelled at, so decided to just not contact her again, feeling like I'd never say anything right and better not to say anything at all

Wendy S. Harpham, M.D.

Dear Susan,
I'm sorry you were yelled at when you were trying to be kind. And I understand your decision to let go and not contact her again.
In future posts I'll address the patient side of this, specifically what responsibilities come with being a patient.

In a heartfelt essay I wrote decades ago titled "Surviving How Are You?," I explain "Some days are good, some bad; sometimes I need to escape, sometimes I need to talk it all out; sometimes I need to be held, other times I need space, and I'm not always sure what I need (so they can't know, either.)

As Joni commented, that can be a landmine. So let's keep talking about it, with hope of diffusing that landmine, ok?

Thanks for sharing. With hope, Wendy

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