I sat there dumb-founded. Numb. I wiggled uncomfortably, my back itching with heat from the fireplace behind me.
Cancer??? Had I heard him correctly?
After much talk & explanation, hugs were exchanged and I drove home in a daze.
My parents had just told my sisters and I that my dad had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. A cancer not uncommon in men, but uncommon for men his age. He was just over 50 at the time and was about to undergo major surgery, which later would be followed by 8 weeks of exhausting radiation.
Even though it’s been many years since that conversation, I remember it as clear as day. My world was changed in an instant, and I was scared. Cancer is never a word you want to hear.
When I got home, I went straight to Rob’s apartment where some friends were watching a movie. I sat quietly until it was over and as soon as they left, I broke down. Since that experience, I’ve learned that everyone’s grieving process is different, but I wanted to share a few ways to deal with grief, especially when it’s unexpected, as it seems it usually is.
When I’m upset, crying is always the biggest relief. It’s a physical way to let go of your pain. Whether you’re with a loved one, or alone in the shower, a good cry can make you feel so much better. Plus, I always find that it helps me sleep better and I always wake up feeling a little bit better the next day, even if my eyes are puffy.
2. Share your Pain
Sometimes the easiest thing to do seems like holding in your pain and keeping it to yourself, but if you’re really hurting, your friends and family will soon notice a difference. Personally, I found that sharing my feelings with a close friend, Rob or a family member makes the healing process far easier and less overwhelming. You’ll be surprised at how understanding people are and how much better you’ll feel once it’s off your chest.
If you’re religious or spiritual, saying daily prayers can be very soothing and reaffirming. Even if you’re not, it can’t hurt to try. Don’t be afraid to ask close friends and family to pray for you as well.
For me, writing things down helps me express my feelings in a safe way and I usually discover more about myself or where the pain and frustration is coming from when I just let the ideas flow. It doesn’t have be eloquent or organized, just write down anything that’s on your mind—stream of conscience. By the end of it, I always have a better understanding of my own feelings & emotions.
5. Talk to a Pro
When in doubt, seek professional help and don’t be afraid or feel bad for needing this. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do, and talking to someone who knows what they’re doing might be just what you need.
6. Ask Questions
Being informed always makes things less scary—especially in our situation. When my dad first told us, I was scared to ask, but the more information I had, the better I felt. Knowledge truly is power and it can really empower you and make you more comfortable with the situation.
7. Be Supportive
Cancer is scary. And, whether it’s a family member or just an acquaintance, it might seem easier to just not talk about it, but from my experience, being supportive and open is the best thing you can do for someone. My dad still fondly recalls a high school friend of his who wrote him letters every so often throughout his diagnosis & treatment. Instead of just asking how they’re feeling, ask how they’re treatment is going, if they need any help with anything and also ask about other areas of their life that aren’t all about their illness or disease. It’s easy to get hung up on that, but don’t forget that people still have a life and probably need a distraction here and there.
At this point, I owe it to you to let you know that my dad is cancer-free! The surgery did not get all of the cancer, and that was the reason for the radiation. My dad also went vegan for nearly two years after reading The China Study which indicates that cancer cells feed off of animal protein. His doctors said it wouldn’t do much good, but within a year, his scans came back undetectable. Pretty cool, right?!
Do you have any tips for dealing with unexpected grief or how to talk to someone with cancer or another illness or disease?