I was reminded yesterday of how hurt I was that some people disappeared on me during my cancer treatment. (It couldn’t be me – I’m fun, trust me!) Honestly, many people don’t know what to say or how to act. They’re so afraid of doing the wrong thing, they end up doing the wrong thing.

My next door neighbor is one of those people. Right after my mastectomies, I was in desperate need of comfort. As we were both going out to our cars, she looked over the hedge and said, “Hello, how are you?” So I told her.

“I have breast cancer.” I said, and pointed to my chest for emphasis. She looked like a deer in the headlights, and I was instantly sorry.

“Oh, we’ll chat, OK?” she replied, and she practically jumped in her car. We never chatted, needless to say.

In all fairness, we aren’t friends. We’re neighbors. She is not obligated in any way to listen to me moan about anything. I told her on a whim, and I misjudged her.

On the flip side, I was with my then nine-year-old son at the store  after most of the surgeries were done. We ran into the grandmother of one of his friends who knows us fairly well. She came up to us and gave us big hugs.

“Oh my God, I heard you have cancer really bad. I’m soooo sorry! Are you OK?” she said and then she  started to sob. Right there in Home Depot in front of my kid. I ended up comforting her.

I saw my neighbor yesterday, out with her husband walking their dog. She asked, “How are you?” with a questioning look. (18 months later…)


I responded, but I wasn’t super friendly. I’m still a little hurt and embarrassed.

My brother-in-law (who managed elder-care facilities) summed it up like this:

“There’s the types that are there for the daily care (for their parents) – the wiping, the diapering, and all the messiness of life. But they absolutely cannot do death. There’s also the reverse: the people who cannot do the day-to-day mess, but are wonderful at the end. Don’t expect both from people.”

It’s great advice. I’ll try to remember it. I just wish there was an indicator on people – like a light or a mole or something to indicate which type you are so I can know in advance.

So, which one are you?