I’m afraid I could lose my battle to Stage 4 breast cancer someday. It’s not going to be tomorrow. But then again, I could be leaving the planet far sooner than I ever imagined. Last week’s hospital stay was a shocking reminder of just how fragile life can be, how suddenly and unexpectedly it can come to a screeching halt.
No one ever plans to live to say, the ripe old age of 30, 40, or even 50. When we look out at the horizon of life, most of us see 70, 80, perhaps even 90. That’s the purpose of those “life expectancy in the United States” stats — so we know what we’re shooting for, what’s typical. But a late-stage breast cancer diagnosis acts as a zoom lens that brings that horizon line into focus at close range.
I’ve always envisioned a long life, maybe 80. I’ve had a pact with my bff Diane for years. We met when we were 19 and promised each other then – and on many occasions since – that we would one day rock in chairs beside one another. That was the plan. And it’s still the plan.
But a Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis, well, let’s say it throws a little wrench into our deal. Do I believe I’m going to live a long time? Absolutely. I know that there are amazing new breast cancer treatments in the pipeline right now and that I have a good shot of living long enough to reach them. Yet, it’s somehow not a contradiction to also say that there’s a fear – a very real and justified fear – that I might not.
This is a long-winded way of saying that the bus analogy that comes my way, well, a couple of thoughts on that:
1. I hear it way too often, and
2. It’s a poor analogy.
First of all, what’s The Bus Analogy? That’s when I share my fear of losing my battle to this disease with someone and they say, “Well, heck, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow. No one knows.”
And over the past few months, I’ve learned that there are lots of versions of The Bus Analogy. There’s the airplane, car, Mack truck…you get the picture.
All of which are true. Except.
Except that if you really fear being run over by a bus, involved in a car accident, or on a doomed flight, you have a choice. You could opt out. All of these threats are outward. Mine is inward and I can’t escape it. It’s with me everywhere I go. I have no choice.
That’s the difference. And why The Bus Analogy — although I know it comes from the heart of people who wish to meet me on common ground — just doesn’t work. Not only doesn’t it work, but many times, it’s followed by a disconnect. I feel misunderstood, despite the best of intentions, and I get quiet. Conversation over.
So, what to do when you find yourself walking in these shoes beside someone like me?
Sometimes, many times, the best words are the simplest:
I’m so sorry.
That must be really scary
I can’t imagine.
I’m here for you.
What can I do to help you?
Or all of the above. Your heart is in the right place. Rest assured that anyone who hears your words, your attempt to calm the storm inside of them, knows that.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson