I often wear a button that says, “Cancer sucks.” In addition to pretty well summing up the cancer experience, it’s a great conversation starter.

Just last month, a man tapped my button as I was waiting in line for coffee in an airport. He nodded sadly and told me that his young daughter was being treated for cancer. Since the button seemed to strike a chord with him, I asked if he’d like to have it. At first he shook his head, but I assured him that I had more in my office. He took it from me, attached it to his coat, and left to catch his flight.

It was one of those fleeting moments of shared humanity. We talked for only a few seconds, but the connection was real.

That’s the thing about cancer. It allows us to connect with others by a kind of shorthand that cuts across the usual boundaries of gender, race, age, and class.

When I meet someone with cancer, or affected by cancer, I have a fairly good idea of what they’re experiencing.

But it’s important to realize that I don’t know exactly what they’re experiencing. Every cancer is different and every individual is different. This was brought home recently when a woman affected by a head and neck cancer told me, “I envy you people with breast cancer because you can put on your shirt and cover your scars.”

That gave me pause.

Cancer can bring people together for another reason as well: it’s a great equalizer.

An acquaintance was reading about a celebrity diagnosed with cancer and said she didn’t have much sympathy for him because he had the money and connections to get the best possible care.

My reaction was quite different. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’re scared no matter how famous you are or how much money you have.

That’s one of the reasons I wear my button. Cancer is scary, but it’s a little less scary if we talk about it.

 


From the Ithaca Journal, written by Bob Riter, September 14, 2013.

 

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

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