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You gotta be cruel to be kind

I work with several very good people at my day job. One of them in particular is new, and we have established a rather unique relationship. We insult, harass, and throw digs at each other all day. There is a strong undercurrent of affection and respect, but we NEVER let it show too clearly.

The other day, I noticed she was wearing a knit hat at work. I suspected the reason, and asked her. She confirmed it: she has cancer, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.

I thought about it for a minute, then responded. "Finally someone around here will have less hair than I do!"

Now, for a bit of personal background. When I'm in the throes of grief or shock, one of the hardest things for me to accept is outpourings of sympathy from all but those I'm closest to.

When I was in college, my mother died. I told one person I had to who happened to be best friends with someone I loathed. Naturally, I ran into said person at the worst possible time. As she gushed sympathetically at me, all I could think was "we're standing in a stairwell. If I were to shove her down the stairs right about now, I could probably get away with it."

I didn't, but the temptation was tremendous while I was in that state.

My colleague has a tremendous support system. She has a loving husband and children, an extended family, many friends, and is very active in her church. I figured she is completely overflowing with sympathy and people walking around on eggshells around her, and would appreciate someone treating her perfectly normally. Lord knows if I was in her shoes, I would.

She had a shocked look on her face, but it passed in a second with a surprised laugh. She shook her head, grinning. "You're bad." (her standard line.)

I told her why I said that, and she shifted to a warm, wistful smile. "You're right."

I won't see her at work until next week, but I've already got my next comment planned. I'm going to accuse her of going through this just to make sure I don't have the most serious health problems at the office, trying to steal my thunder.

Comments (19)

Jay Tea--you out to also fi... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea--you out to also find the UGLIEST, MOST OBNOXIOUS hats and give her one a week.

I'm praying for her. I'm glad she has friends like you.

Luckily I didn't lose much ... (Below threshold)

Luckily I didn't lose much hair when I was doing chemo, but I lost lots of weight and looked like walking death. Every time I saw someone I knew they'd ask the obligatory "how are you" so a trip to the mall became a long, drawn out interview, answering the same questions over and over. Some people might like the attention but I hated it and it got so bad I didn't leave the house for 2 years except for necessities. I hope she doesn't have to go through that, the chemo is bad enough.

What goddessotclassroom wro... (Below threshold)

What goddessotclassroom wrote (^^).

Good Job Jay...That's what ... (Below threshold)

Good Job Jay...That's what matters most to those who are going through the processes fo treatment. The ups and the downs are many.
My best friend, Tina, has breast cancer. She finished the chemo and is now in the radiation phase. The past few months have been hard on her and her family and the best thing that I an do is not pity her. I'm there for her and we have luaghed and cried together over it all. What am emotional roller coaster it has been. Some friends just don't know how tor react and so they treat her as if she has one foot in the grave already. That's not what she needs. She needs "normal" and she craves "normal" so by me she gets nothing less. We found out recently that her prognosis is better than good and she is going to be fine. She is a survivor.
Keep treating your friend just as you have been. You will be loved for it.

I am a nine year cancer suv... (Below threshold)
D. Lange:

I am a nine year cancer suvivor. (NHL) Three surgeries, five months of chemo and a month of radiation. When I was going through my treatments, it helped a lot to talk to survivors. Please let your friend know there are millions of good news stories out here.

NHL survivor, 10+ years now... (Below threshold)

NHL survivor, 10+ years now. (Stage IV, med to high Grade) You can't imagine the feeling when I went for the 10 years remission checkup with the Oncologist. He kicked me out of his office and told me NEVER to come back. He had the biggest smile on his face too.

Jay, it's all about helping by doing what's best for the patient, not what is considered normal. As for the hair, I got news for you. I lost all my hair to Chemo (strangly enough, my beard stayed) and it grew back with thinner strands and softer, after the fact, so maybe she has something to look forward to.

As for her talking to other survivors, that does help. Please pass my e-mail address to her privately, if she wants it.

Cancer really irritates me.... (Below threshold)
Zsa Zsa:

Cancer really irritates me. I miss all the people it has robbed from my life... Treating it isn't just about chemo. I think that is very nice the way you treat her... It is so important to be able to laugh! As " they " say! Laughter is the best medicine.

Bullwinkle, I am sorry to s... (Below threshold)
Zsa Zsa:

Bullwinkle, I am sorry to see that you had cancer...
Did you look like the caption of the week on WILLisms.com for this week?...I just love that picture! I have left too many comments about it! I have just got to QUIT...I LOVE this blog! Jay Tea is really sweet and funny and I like Bullwinkle. I even enjoy Joser!

I'll bet it's not really a ... (Below threshold)

I'll bet it's not really a tumor. She's probably smuggling illegal aliens.

If she promises to stop being a threat to Homeland Security, I'll send up a prayer for her :-)

Uh, I don't see it that way... (Below threshold)

Uh, I don't see it that way. You didn't need to get maudlin or bathetic, but a simple word hoping for a quick recovery would probably have been better. I know guys like you who make uncomfortable, inappropriate jokes like that and you kind of feel for them that they so out of it they can't see they're making an ass of themselves. Perhaps you don't like "sympathy" but you're kind of being a dick. You should accept words of encouragement and sympathy in the spirit they are rendered and not make it all about yourself, mister sensitivity. And you should not make experimental social statements when someone has a serious illness. Go with the traditional. I seriously doubt you did anything but weird her out. She probably laughed out of embarrassment for you and being creeped out herself.

Actually I hate your kind of "humor" where you trade insults all day. It gets old, except fot tin-eared social misfits who don't get they are really irritating. Just attempt to act like a human being, you aren't on stage all day. You are only a star here. No need to perform at work as well with your original, witty repostes at every social situation.

example of a appropriate... (Below threshold)

example of a appropriate response, for you socially maladjusted types who think their particular brand of "humor" is necessary:

I am a nine year cancer suvivor. (NHL) Three surgeries, five months of chemo and a month of radiation. When I was going through my treatments, it helped a lot to talk to survivors. Please let your friend know there are millions of good news stories out here.

And then there are the peop... (Below threshold)

And then there are the people who have to be the skunk at every party...

People are different and re... (Below threshold)
Robert Modean:

People are different and react differently in such situations. Two women in my department have had breast cancer within the last three years. Dawn was in need of constant reassurance, hand holding, and cheering up; Nancy wanted nothing more than for everyone to ignore her illness -- she just wanted to get through the day without having to focus on it constantly. One day I went into Nancy's cube only to find her crying, and you know why? Dawn had made it a habit to stop by and "reassure" Nancy that everything would be OK, and to share uplifting stories about her treatment and how well she felt now. Nancy hated her for it. Nancy wanted nothing more than to be treated like we'd always treated her, she had to live with the cancer she didn't want to be continually reminded of that fact.

So what Jay Tea did might not have seemed "appropriate" to you, but then you don't know the people involved, you just climbed up on your pedestal and judged the guilty. Lord, what would we do without the smug sanctimony of the morally superior constantly offering advice and correcting every faux pas they perceive? You know what puppets? You might find sitting on your pedestal more comfortable if you were to take that pole out of your ass and just relax.

puppets may need to be refe... (Below threshold)
Zsa Zsa:

puppets may need to be refered to a proctologist! Those poles are probably a real pain in the butt!

puppets...sorry, but that i... (Below threshold)

puppets...sorry, but that is exactly what everyone/anyone should NOT do while sharing a work term with anyone suffering much of anything.

Laughter's still the best medicine. Someone extends themselves when they show they're aware enough of others to relate with humor -- and it, also, indicates affection. The hardcore facts about illness, statistics and biological, surgical, pharmaceutical information is what we endure during healthcare, but otherwise, wellness involves a whole lot more than that and most of the best of that rest is an affectionate, considerate and entertaining social environment. Even if it's only one coworker, one family member...it really matters, it helps to escape the seriousness of the problem and thus, reduces the seriousness of the problem.

Tread carefully. In a seri... (Below threshold)

Tread carefully. In a serious enough situation, even sarcasm or faux insults can wear thin. How would you feel if someone talked this way about a fatality? Not saying you can never do it. Just be careful.

Count me as one of those wh... (Below threshold)

Count me as one of those who doesn't want sympathy. Well, okay, I want sympathy plenty, what I don't want is to have to deal with sympathy. No, I've never had cancer or anything like that but there's nothing I find more humiliating than bawling in public and nothing more sure to make it happen than someone offering sympathy when I'm on the edge.

Not everyone needs or wants the same things. The only truly inexcusable act is to not pay attention to the other person's reactions. Unwanted sympathy is just as bad as unwanted banter.

Interesting to read the dif... (Below threshold)
D. Lange:

Interesting to read the different reactions to Jay Tea's approach. All I can say is cancer changes everything and never in the way those who have not had it would expect. One other obersvation. Having spent the last nine years with cancer patients, whenever we are together we never trade insults or joke about our appearance or condition. If a cancer patient does, it's usually to help someone who doesn't have cancer cope with what they're seeing. Cancer patients listen to each other's fears, give encouragement if a tumor has gotten smaller or blood counts have gotten better. Trade tips on how to deal with side effects and most importantly, live each day as if it were the last day of their life. It's a liberating experience.

In my view as I think that ... (Below threshold)

In my view as I think that is very good the way you treat her.






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