If you're a "House Hunters" fan from its early days, you probably remember Suzanne Whang, the host. Attractive, with a liquid silk voice, she was the friendly face of house tour voyeurs like me. Who doesn't love to have a peek at how the other half lives? Who doesn't want to guess which house will be "the one"? Part showcase for real estate, part study in human relations, I've enjoyed watching the folks who go shopping for property and I often wondered why Suzanne Whang stopped appearing.
It turns out Ms. Whang has been battling Stage 4 breast cancer. And I do mean battling. This lady has come out swinging and she's not planning to hold back her thoughts or emotions any time soon.
You may also know Suzanne from her other gigs, as a comedian and actor. She's done a lot of things over time. With a B.A. in psychology from Yale and a Masters in Cognitive Psychology from Brown, Ms. Whang brings a little something to the table that most cancer patients do not. So, what did all that knowledge about emotions do for her when she was diagnosed in 2006 with breast cancer? It gave her a chance to put a very human, sometimes touching, sometimes powerful, sometimes hilarious face to the disease.
I must admit that sometimes her blog is less than polite (www.suzannewhang.com) and she's been know to use an expletive or ten, but one of the posts I read struck me hard. Her advice to those of us without cancer? Don't give her advice about how to live with the disease. You know what? That's great advice. If you're a cancer caregiver, file that in your memory box. The next time your loved one snaps at you, ask yourself if you've strayed over that line. If you have, apologize. All the world's best intentions are not enough to get you out of that hot water.
Which raises another important subject -- are you claiming your loved one's cancer as your own? It's such a common mistake for cancer caregivers. It's hard not to get caught up in the cancer frenzy when it happens to someone you love. Let's face it. That cancer is going to change your life, too. It's easy to think you have a vested interest in the outcome. But you always need to remember that the body with the cancer is not yours. Your job is to provide comfort and care. Your role is to support. Your purpose is to be the help mate for the person with the cancer, so that he or she can survive cancer treatment and the disease as best as possible.
People with cancer often go through enormous emotional struggles as they manage their disease. It's not always a pretty experience, filled with pink ribbons and happy, smiling faces. Cancer is a teeth-grinding, fist-clenching experience. It's rarely predictable in all its aspects, and that means things can turn from bad to worse or from bad to good with little notice. Uncertainty reigns in the world of cancer, and people do the best they can with what they've got. It's very stressful.
Having a good cancer caregiver can help to relieve some of the stress of being a cancer survivor, but you will never be the savior of your loved one. You are on a journey together, facing a great unknown in a landscape full of darkness and light and everything in between. Err on the side of love. Be there, even when your own heart is breaking. Don't stop living with a loved one who has cancer. Kick cancer to the curb every once in a while. Think about something else as you force yourself to walk on the sunny side of the street. Think about life, laughter, and love. Feed the heart and soul with real nourishment -- starve the disease of the power to rule the roost.
For more help with your cancer caregiving, visit The Practical Caregiver Guides