Support is a very odd concept. Sometimes you don’t get the support from the places you expect it to come from, yet it comes from very surprising places. Maybe it doesn’t come the way you want it to, but if you are open, it comes in very surprising ways. Human nature causes us to focus on what we expected or didn’t have, rather than what is right in front of our faces. This can be frustrating for those seeking support, as well as for those offering support. The key is knowing the heart of the person, and what their intention is, whenever that is possible.
The day of my surgery, my husband wasn’t able to take off work. He is in a seasonal business, so when he didn’t even try to see if he could take me, the logical side of me understood, but I really wanted my husband there at my side. Luckily, my dad was there, as he has always been. I really didn’t want him to drop me off in my driveway afterwards, though, I didn’t want to be alone. As you can guess, the first moment I was alone, the full realization of what I had been through that morning hit me and I bawled like a baby. On second thought, I really don’t like to cry in front of my dad or husband, or anyone else for that matter, but especially them. Maybe it was best they weren't there, because I was able to cry it out, without having to feel stupid for doing so. After all, I’m the tough one, I’m not supposed to cry.
My surgery was on my arm. I had another perfectly fine arm, and the rest of my body was okay, so I really didn't think I would need any help from anyone. I believed too that life would go on after surgery. I wasn't prepared for the impact that certain actions, or listening ears, or the lack of, would have on me.
The day after my surgery, my good friend called me and asked if she could bring me lunch. Doing things with my “wrong” arm was quite annoying and any movement of my right arm pulled and felt like it was ripping my whole bicep back open. So she brought her son who was the same age as my daughter and really good friends, and they played, while we ate and talked about nothing important at all. She stayed for about 2 ½ hours. When she left, I was amazed at how much a play date helped at that moment. Normally play dates stressed me to get ready, I had an excuse not to worry about that, and it really helped so much to relax and chat with a friend while the little ones entertained themselves.
A couple of days later, another mom called and asked if she could take my daughter to the moms group/play date event that day. I had already told this mom that while I appreciated the offer, I didn’t need her to bring me a meal. My husband is a pretty decent cook, when he has to be. Well, she came in to pick up my daughter with food. This wasn’t a casserole, like you would imagine, this was a full blown meal that caused my husband to ask “do other families eat like this?“ She brought roast beef and vegetables, baked macaroni and cheese, home made bread, brownies, applesauce and a gallon of tea. I was blown away. It was all in disposable containers, she had written reheating directions on everything. It was enough food to feed our family (my son was returning from his retreat that afternoon) for two nights and the bread and brownies lasted even longer. As I type this a year later, I still get misty eyed. I still don’t have the words, it just amazed me that someone who I call friend, but really don’t know all that well, would do that much for me, and that it would really mean as much as it did to me and my family.
As I did more research on melanoma, and realized what could have been, or how important it is to be aware of my skin and my families. I would try to talk to people about it. While my closest friends will listen and say they understand or didn’t realize that, or help calm me down, which is exactly what I need, there are the others who just don’t seem to care.
One of my closest friends said to me, as I was freaking out before the surgery “My mom had that, they cut it out, she has a scar on her leg now, but she’s fine” That is the only acknowledgement she has ever given. Or the other person who will tell me about other people’s almost identical experiences, but in a way that their experiences were 100 times worse than anything I could imagine so how could I say I went through anything.
It’s also disappointing when people you want support from go the complete opposite direction. The person who calls you “gunshy” as you put sunscreen on your child. The person who you overhear asking about your tanning history, as if you somehow asked for melanoma to invade your life. The friends who no longer talk to you because they don’t want to hear that skin cancer is real.
There are the ones who bring up your scar several times each time you see them. They cant believe that it still looks so bad. A few hours later they will bring it up again asking if there is a scar cream I can use. I truly believe they are trying to say that they know it bothers me and it would bother them too, but it doesn’t really bother me anymore. Should it? It is a part of me now.
I think the worst though, is the people who ignore it all together. These are the ones that didn’t respond when you told them you had it and they didn’t check on you after. If you bring it up, they quickly change the subject. They make you feel like you should just keep it a secret and forget about it.
I feel like I am whining by talking about the disappointments when it comes to support, but I want to be real. I have discovered that most of my feelings, that I thought were just me being selfish, are being felt by many. There is nothing like feeling down on yourself for being in a pity party because someone didn’t react how you want them to, when you really don’t know how you want them to, and then seeing that someone else felt that way too. You aren’t crazy.
Likewise, maybe someone is looking for information on how to support someone who is going through this. Maybe a little insight into how they may be feeling will help. If you are in this group, just listen. When they feel down, give them a shoulder to lean on or an ear to vent to. Just listen and let them know that you care and understand. Even if you dont understand why they feel that way, understand that they do feel that way. When they are feeling triumphant, let them know that you are happy for them and celebrating right there with them. Tell them stories of others that went through it to encourage them and show them they aren’t alone. At the same time, be careful that in showing them they aren’t alone, you aren’t saying that they shouldn’t have their own emotions too.