I recently spoke with a Mid-Pacific graduate, Matt Hoe*, whose father passed away in 2014 of colon cancer. I admired his courage as he fought through the grief of his father’s passing and turned that pain into an award-winning film. His words about cancer, which I first heard at a chapel assembly, were penetrating: “If I were to give you one piece of advice, it would be to learn that abstaining from saying that the sky is grey does not make the clouds go away. It just means that you don’t get to talk about the sky.” Matt’s words resonated long after I heard them. Each month I go to an Ovarian Cancer Support group meeting where women from all over Oahu come to share their stories of surviving and fighting cancer. Many of the women are many years removed from their initial cancer fight and some are still in the thick of it. Some are bald, some wear wigs, some have scraggly fine hair (that would be me) and some have pretty luscious locks. Each month we have newcomers struggling on that shifting sand of a new cancer diagnosis. Cancer is relentless, and there is always a ready supply of new patients. We don’t have all the answers for each other, but we share our stories in hopes that our own personal experiences and treatment will give hope to each other. For me, it’s comforting to know that many are living fully having successfully navigated this beast.
We are like a big teepee-each of us is a stick that props up the total structure. It’s our collective nature that makes us powerful. Recently, there was an audible gasp when one of the women shared that she was entering palliative care (palliative care is primarily focused on providing pain relief rather than searching for a cure). She spoke of her situation matter-of-factly and at the time, I wished I could hug her pain away. Being among this group of loving and supporting women can’t cure the pain (or the disease), but it eases the burden of having to carry grim information all alone. We are also there for each other’s joys and triumphs!
How many times have you thought about someone who is fighting a major health issue (whether cancer of something else) and were afraid to reach out for saying the wrong thing? Saying nothing is equivalent to doing nothing. Knowing that others are there to support you is a type of palliative care in itself. Matt continued, “For those of you who feel a storm brewing, I tell you this: learn to talk about the sky, and those crinked clouds of emotion that so often choke your voice. Feel the rain on your skin. I know that it’s scary to be vulnerable. But trust me, It’s scarier to be alone when it starts to storm.” Will you be successful when you reach out to those who are suffering? Maybe or maybe not. It’s the reaching out to each other than connects us all together.
Matt’s words were so powerful and they need to be heard. “And for those of you who have friends caught in that storm, learn to listen. You might feel uncomfortable when they open up to you. You might be afraid to say the wrong thing, and somehow make the situation worse. But more often than not, people just want to be heard. They want to know that someone cares about them — that someone will be there by their side. The most comforting words that I have ever received were, “I’m sorry that it’s storming over there. That really sucks, but I care about you, and I’m here for you.”
Take the time to reach out to your friends who are facing grey skies–do it now!
Please watch Matt’s video: Separateness is an Illusion
*Matt is a recent graduate and an aspiring filmmaker who hopes to tell people’s last narratives in film