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Other Peoples Reactions

Posted 5/6/2015

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  First, the disclaimer: I do know that the title should read Other People's Reactions, however our system spits out any title with a punctuation mark. So, today's entry is stimulated by a thoughtful essay by Heather Millar which I will share later. She writes about our cancer becoming other peoples' drama. I was delighted when I saw the title of her piece, although most of what she wrote (although surely on target and good) was not quite where my own head had gone.

  Maybe I know more narcissistic people than she does or, at least, have heard more stories about such self-involved people who assume the cloak of others' troubles to enhance their own sense of self importance. You may think of them as people who flock to trouble as moths do to flame. At first glance, their behavior seems completely positive: whenever  X has a friend with a serious illness or a house fire of a pending divorce or.... (fill in the blank), she is right there to help. It is only if you look more carefully at what transpires that you see the behavior becoming more about X and less about her friend's needs.

  Our hypothetical X now has a hot story to tell to all of her other friends, describing the misfortune in ways that underline the importance of her assistance. " Jane says she could not have managed without me." or "Did you hear what Jane's husband and his lawyer are trying to do at the next court date? She told me all about it." Or this: "I can't find time to get my hair cut this week as I have to take poor Susie to chemotherapy on three days. If it weren't for me, she would have to go alone."  It is up to you whether you find this more distressing than the friends who vanish at the first hint of trouble; it seems to me they are two sides of the same kind.

  We all know what a real friend does: he or she is present and stays present. "Just be there" is my frequent advice with the second line being "And stay there."

  Here is the start and than a link to Ms. Millar's piece:

When Your Cancer Becomes Their Drama
By Heather Millar

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you get sucked into a personal, emotional storm. Then you tell people about your cancer. Your crisis slams into the hopes, fears, hang-ups and personalities of your friends and family. And then the misunderstandings begin.

I have a dear, dear friend who helped me tremendously during treatment. Yet her first response dismayed me when I told her I had cancer. She gasped, “But you’re moving! I won’t be able to make casseroles for you!” At the time, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “I’ve got cancer, and you’re worrying about casseroles?!” By the way, she flew across the country so she could make those dinners for me. She remains one of my best friends.

I have an acquaintance who prefers to be very private. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, her very public sister sent out an email blast, announcing the diagnosis and announcing what a tragedy it all was, for the family. She appropriated her sister’s illness, made it the family’s drama. And she did all this without consulting the person who actually had cancer. Not surprisingly, the cancer patient was highly peeved.


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