I don’t know why this is, but if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, there are certain random times a year when the whole world gets really anxious about cancer.
I’ve already written about the shitty breast cancer “awareness” memes that show up, and my opinion on those hasn’t changed. “My bra strap is cream! Look at me, doing good things for cancer and also calling attention to my underwear at the same time!” That doesn’t make you a humanitarian, it makes you gross. Because you’re not doing anything to combat cancer, or even raising awareness about it; you’re doing it to draw attention to YOURSELF.
The latest thing is posting one of those awful text-picture memes that have become endemic to facebook (because people don’t know this is what tumblr is for). It looks something like this:
Some of you will say “What a sweet gesture! What kind of heartless monster do you have to be to have a problem with this?”
Well, I’m the kind of heartless monster who’s had cancer. I’m the kind of heartless monster whose family has been wracked with it. And I’m the kind of heartless monster who really despises empty gestures, which is all this stuff is.
Let me break it down: People with cancer, or people in remission from cancer, or people dealing with the loss of loved one from cancer, or WHATEVER, do not give a flying fuck how many “likes” a meaningless picture like this gets. They don’t care who posts it, or who makes it their profile picture for an hour. It doesn’t mean anything, because it’s not about THEM. It’s about YOU. It’s you saying “I know someone who has cancer, and I’M a wonderful person for posting this.” When, if anything, it should be “My Aunt is really brave and I tell her every day how much I love her while she’s fighting to get well.”
Would you like to know something that you can do for someone with cancer/who’s in remission/who’s lost someone and is grieving?
When something horrible happens–like a cancer diagnosis–the majority of people in your life will not be there for you. This is one of life’s most painful lessons. They may give it lip service, at least at first, but when shit gets really real you will be astonished at how fast they disappear. There’s no point being bitter or upset about it. Most people don’t know HOW to be there for someone during one of the most trying times in their lives, and rather that attempt it, they bail. That’s okay. You don’t need those people anyway. Because the ones that remain–and their identities will probably surprise you–are the ones worth holding on to.
At some point in your life, someone you love will have cancer. That’s just statistics. And instead of posting dumb memes and talking in limp platitudes about how “brave” they are, call them. Talk to them about what’s going on with their health, or if they don’t want to talk about it yet, about baseball or celebrity gossip. Let them tell you their fears without you trying to shut them up; they’re confronting their mortality so even if it makes YOU uncomfortable, let THEM talk about how they’re scared. Go visit them in the hospital if they’re in one, and don’t give me any of that “I don’t like hospitals” whiny garbage. You know who else doesn’t like hospitals? People who are in them! Swallow your awkwardness or your fear and go already. And take flowers.
Be a good friend. Be a good human being. That’s it. It’ll be hard sometimes–I am still realising all the ways that me having cancer affected my family and friends–but you have to do it. Because that’s how life is, and that’s how being a good person is, too.
And if you’re really, really hellbent on spreading the word about cancer on social media, please make it something that counts. Post a link to a donation page for the American Cancer Society and donate yourself. Remind your friends to self-examine. Personally I talk about pap smears ALL THE DAMN TIME, because it amazes me how many of my friends have never had one. Fundraise. Anything you like, as long as it actually accomplishes something.
But remember, it starts in our own lives. Reach out to the people you love and care for. It’s the most meaningful thing that you can do. And leave the empty words at home.