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Telling the Truth

by Sarah Whalen

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If cancer has taught me anything, it’s to tell the truth and know the facts. Dad has cancer. That’s the truth. But all the possibilities and outcomes and all the things we dream about, cry about, and have nightmares about – those aren’t facts. They are things that may happen, good or bad, but they’re not facts. Not yet.

A friend of mine whose mom was recently diagnosed with colon cancer asked me for my advice as a daughter who has watched someone go through it. She wanted to know what I did, how I coped, believed, and laughed my way through a lot of it, and how Dad and I came out on top.

Know that he doesn’t want you hovering or worrying, but know that he knows you’re there.

Author of Article photo

Sarah Whalen

I told her simply to know the facts. They’re all you really have. Know the cancer. Know the statistics and the medicines. Know which days Dad gets chemo, and when his good days and his bad days will be. Know the foods he’ll crave and then get sick of (grilled cheese and tomato soup). Know his weird habits. Know to not make him talk about chemo ever unless he wants to. Know that his hair will start to thin. Know to have hot sauce in the house because chemo makes everything taste like wax. If you just put a little hot sauce on anything, it will taste like … well, hot sauce, but it will taste like something.

Know that he doesn’t want you hovering or worrying, but know that he knows you’re there. Know how he feels, what he’s eaten, which doctors he’s spoken to, which medicine they’re trying this week, and what spiritual leaders he’s been visiting with. Know who has called, who has sent flowers, and who has sent baskets of food, but be sure to know without asking him. He doesn’t want you to know because he doesn’t think you need to. But you do need to. You’re his daughter; you need to know the facts.

The truth is your mom, dad, son, sister, boss, or friend with cancer may die. But they very well may live. The cancer may come back, but it may also never come back. Know the statistics, but know the possibilities. You can only know the truth, and you can leave the rest up to God.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Sarah Whalen is the daughter of a colon cancer survivor and lives in New York, NY.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2012.