April 26, 2009

Cancer and Saying ‘Thank You’


“What’s the right way to thank friends for their help and to show my appreciation?,” asked Garnet, a survivor, in the comment section of my last post (Cancer and Friendship). Her question evoked the words of Richard Acker, a 36-year old stage 4 colon cancer patient in my book.

“When we receive help, it is clearly benefiting us, but it also gives some benefit to those who are helping us. They feel good, it makes them happy, it helps them to express their love for us in a concrete way.”

I agree and believe that when you receive help while you are ill, you don’t have to do anything other than say, “Thank you.”  I haven’t always followed this rule though.  Especially after treatment, when I made big thank you gestures – mostly in the form of dinner parties where I unleash my inner Barefoot Contessa.  My desire to thank came not only from my genuine gratitude, but also a bit from the guilt of feeling like I was an imposition, and a tad bit from shame that I needed help to being with.   Thank you gestures made the help I received into something reciprocal, which made me feel less like a sick cancer patient.

But I’ve come to think of that attitude and the need to do something thankful as bullshit.  Why?  Because I AM a young adult cancer patient and I WAS sick. This is not an equal, reciprocal exchange.  When we are down and out we need help.  When I graciously accept assistance without reciprocating, I am humbled and reminded of how helpless I am sometimes.  This is not a bad thing.  In my eyes, this is part of getting real with what it means to live with cancer.

When I do something for someone else in need I don’t do it because it makes me feel good or because I want something in return.  I do it because I love someone or care about helping to alleviate suffering in the world (that sounds kind highfalutin but it is true.)  When someone helps me, I hope this is also their motive.  Now, when I’m sick and need help, I simply show my gratitude by saying “Thank you,” it feels really right.

What is it like for you to accept help?  Do you ever feel guilty doing it?  Do you feel like you have to give back and do something?  Does it make you feel weak to accept help or does it empower you to recognize your limitations?  Have you ever done something for friends and family to thank them for helping you during an illness?

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