Thank you.

Writing. Mostly I’m so glad I worked out this is my thing. Sometimes, I wonder. It’s been the source of some of the highest highlights of my life.

Opening a box of books with my name on the cover.

Becoming part of a writing community of people I respect and admire, and feeling respected and admired right back.

Getting published in places I could’ve only dreamed of.

Having a voice that is listened to on issues that matter to me, and matter in the world.

Spending a huge portion of my life doing what I’m great at, experiencing the magic of making something come from nothing, knowing the something is good and makes a difference.

Getting feedback from someone when my writing has touched them. Changed them.

Impacting peoples lives for good. Impacting them at all.

These parts are wonderful. But writing has also been the source of some of my darkest moments and deepest hurts.

Rejection after rejection after rejection from editors and publishers and agents in pursuit of reaching more people, and trying to make a living from what I love.

Mostly not being paid for hours and hours of work.

Being promised things by people who have the power to take your writing where you want it to go, only to find the promising you things was something that person does to feel powerful, and was not an actual thing they ever intended to do. In other words, being let down.

Having people close doors on you because of things you’ve written, because you told the truth about what you think and believe, like when you lose a job because someone read what you wrote, and your beliefs aren’t in line with the beliefs of the organisation. Being judged and rejected because of your honesty and openness in writing publicly about what you think.

Spending hours and hours creating a body of work to sometimes have that work disappear from the face of the earth, because of hackers, or bad memory, or when a website shuts down, or simply because people want something new today to replace yesterday’s stuff.

Having people argue with you, judge you, decide they hate you, troll you, outright reject you, think they know you, presume the worst of you, criticise you and flip you off, and they’ve never met you or spoken to you in real life.

Having your mother respond to your writing with concerns about your mental health.

Having nobody read your writing. Or care that you wrote. Or care about what you wrote. At all.

These are a few of the downsides of being a writer. Is it worth it? I believe so. Sometimes, like now, it’s hard to balance up the great things about being a writer with the bad things. More of my published works have been lost through hackers and website shutdowns than still exist online. Needing to help my family eat still keeps me working hours a day in other jobs. There’s barely any glamour in being a writer, that’s for sure. Yet, I am one. Maybe it’s arrogant of me to still assume the things that go on in my head are at all interesting to anyone but myself, but what can I do? This is all I have. This is what I am. To stop writing now would be to kill a part of myself, and, having almost died in real life a couple of times, I know I can’t really afford to amputate the thing that keeps me alive in about fifty ways, when my body and circumstances are conspiring to pull me in the other fifty.

And this is what it means to be alive. To find out what you were made for and simply do it, without thinking about fame or money, but thinking about being fully alive, instead of half dead. Because I may be not rich and not famous, but by God, I am not dead or dying, not any more.

Thanks for reading this. The fact you did so gives me great hope and comfort, because READING. Your reading this is the yang to my writing ying, and I deeply, deeply appreciate that you read what I write. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Love, Jo xxx

Heading home for a hundred years.

It’s been six months since we quit our lease, put our stuff in storage and hit the road in search of “the Place”.

Six months of facing every single fear, known and unknown, from my fear Ben will relapse into addiction and depression, to my fear I’ll get sick again, or we will run out of money. Or, worse even than that, that we are completely insane and this is crazy, and there is no Place, not really, and there will be no end to this searching.

We know fear is a shocking liar.

We’ve had glimmers of hope, with no guarantees. We’ve had co-dreamers and co-creators come on board with us, conspiring in their hearts and spirits with us to find our way to the Place that waits now for us, somewhere.

I lay awake at night and think of it, out there, it’s gardens and rooftops bathed in the same moonlight as the one I’m laying under, it’s floors resting in darkness waiting for our feet to cross them, it’s table waiting for the many meals we will share with others to be placed on them, the land waiting to be blessed and healed, so we can bring the ones together who need blessing and healing and help them grow and recover from the world, and it’s endless bruising and brokenness.

And I close my eyes and hear the silence of the Place, feel it’s peace tingling my skin in chilled air and it’s restfulness unravelling my spine and stretching me out to my full length. I feel the stars wheeling overhead. I feel the Place, and me in it, part of it. It is part of me, and I believe it will know me when it sees me and come running to meet me, laughing and singing, “Here you are! I’ve been waiting! You’re home!”10153961_680470715332355_220179533_n

And we will be home. And we’ll bring them in, the ones who are also looking for the Place, and we will give them ground for their feet and sky for their crowns, and we will sit them at the head of the table and serve them and make them our brothers and sisters. And we will all be broken and put back together again, in Him.

It doesn’t always sound like this in my head, you know. Mostly it’s the fear, the doubt and the worry. But half a year of that isn’t that long. Ben and I are just shy of a hundred years of journeying between us to get us this far. I have a feeling we are much closer than we think.

Love, Jo xxx

Living as a Christian outside the church is BRAVE.

I haven’t been to church regularly in years, and I know I’m not alone. Debate amongst Christians continues on whether Christians “should” go to church, or, in fact, whether church membership and attendance is Biblically mandated. I don’t get involved in that. As far as I’m concerned, I know a lot of Christians don’t go to church, for whatever reason.  Whether they “should” go – or go back, as a lot of Christians tell me they once belonged, but for various reasons no longer feel that way – is redundant. It just is what it is.

The general consensus amongst most church-going Christians I find is that if a not-going-to-church Christian feels isolated, is in pain emotionally, is hurt or offended by the actions of the church or has issues related to their non-church attendance, then that’s their fault – the solution is sucking it up (“it” being the issue which caused them to leave) and getting back to church.

Gosh, if only it were that simple.

I’m not going into who’s responsibility it is to heal the rift between churches and leavers. I am more interested in those folks who are not going to church any more, and who may have left under less than amicable circumstances. I’m concerned they are left to fend for themselves, and I know many feel the lack of support and empathy they experience is their punishment for being outside the “fold”. I want to know who is helping supporting, listening to and loving – who is “pastoring” – these folks.

And with this in mind, and my own experiences and those of others over many years, I created BRAVE.

*******

BRAVE is specifically for women who have left their Christian church, and who feel they may need some support, guidance and encouragement to help them process what’s happened, and find ways to move forward.

There are as many reasons why people leave church as there are churches. But while our reasons for leaving may differ, there’s one thing every leaving has in common.

Leaving your church is like leaving your family.

Whether you’re deployed from a church to begin another one, leave because of differences, or make like a runaway and escape with your life, leaving brings with it the same grief which accompanies any similar loss.

Yes, grief. Those feelings have a name, and the experience brings with it a legitimate set of thoughts and feelings.

This grief, and the issues which facilitated the leaving in the first place, don’t simply “go away”. They need to be healed, particularly if there’s ever to be a conciliation of any kind.

Nobody can live hurting like that. And simply going back to church and not being “offended” any more just isn’t that simple.

BRAVE is an eight-week online course designed for women who have left the mainstream Christian church and who wish to re-orientate their faith and Christian practice to be both self-determining, and Holy Spirit led.

Processing grief and owning our choices takes courage, wisdom and a willingness to face our shortcomings, and accept others’. In BRAVE, we’ll share our experiences, and discuss ways of moving forward, breaking old patterns of dependance whilst exploring and recreating a new way of being with God, and with others.

Find out more about BRAVE…

*****

Facilitated by Jo Hilder

Cost: $79

Registrations close: Friday 14th March. Spaces are limited!

Questions? Contact Jo here.

Register now – Click on the Paypal button below to secure your place in BRAVE!

New beginnings.

If I’d lost this blog* six months, twelve months, two ago, it would’ve been a different story than the one it is.

That website was really the hub of my identity for a long time.

It began as a place to vent my shock and grief as Ben slid into alcoholism. I remember publishing my first post and thinking “Well, that’s it. Nobody will ever speak to me again. The whole world will read that and hate me. I’m in for it now.”

Nobody read that stuff but me.

Over the years, I blogged about mostly my cancer experience on that website. Good news and bad news. Struggles with writing my books, which I always worked through. Hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of visitors. I made a living through that portal to the known universe. And it wasn’t even real, just code in a computer.

The things I said on that blog changed my destiny. Made me friends, allies, maybe even fans. It was the me people could look at while I wasn’t around, so they could decide if I was safe, if I “knew the code”. Many decided yes, and I thank you for that.

It was a big part of my life, that website. Extinguished. And now, of all the times. Right after I surrendered my cancer identify. And my house. Oh, and salary. And any safety, predictability and security. That niche in cyber world was like my shop front, my last little hole in the wall of the world where I could hide, or perhaps hold up and say, “I know I seem crazy, but I have this! I made this! This is me! I have credibility!” Maybe it was never that. Doesn’t matter now. It’s gone.

Yesterday morning I spent an hour in the deepest meditation I’ve ever had, focusing on Gods love and my worth, and on being supported completely, and trusting Him for my whole life. I was confused about the business side of my creative enterprises, and why it all seemed undefined to me, and others. I had a talk with Ben for almost an hour troubleshooting and decided on what needed to happen. Keep my blog for my writing, set up a separate website for my business. Sat down to login and begin, and wham. Website, blog, all my work going back months and yes, years, deleted. Wiped. I neglected to back up since before Christmas. Just lazy, I guess.

I remade my website just a few weeks ago, and did my best, most intuitive and focused writing since then.

I have some rough drafts saved on my hard drive. But those polished gems are stolen away.

I think the fact I had an hours meditation just before it happened helped. When I found out, I was okay. It surprised me.

I think this is the only way it could have gone, and it had to go. I’d never have been able to do it.

So it’s okay, I’m okay. There is a little rebuilding to be done, as I lost another website as well – Yai’s book site, and as he is trying to raise funds for the current crisis in a south Sudan through his book sales. I’ll have to get him a new site ASAP. So much work, all lost.

But now is as good a time as any to begin this new chapter. Time to look forward and trust. Time to let go.

And to those who seemed worried this was my sign to stop writing, no way. The best is yet to come,

Love, Jo xxxx

……………

*On the 15th of January, this website was hacked and deleted. I lost five years of blogging, writing and book drafts, everything not backed up – which, I’m ashamed to admit, was quite a lot.

How to be sure God is in it.

A few folks I’m walking with in life and in coaching have alluded to one particular issue lately as they think about their new creative and spiritual projects. This is what I hear them say.

“How will I know if God is in it?”

“What if God isn’t in it?”

“I know this will only work if God is in it.”

“What if I pour everything into this, and find out God wasn’t in it?”

“The last thing I tried failed, so that tells me God mustn’t have been in it.”

So … what does it mean when “God is in it”? And how do you know when “God is in” something? How do we choose things God “is in”, and avoid things God “isn’t in”? How can we tell the difference?

Here’s the criteria people seem to use to tell if God’s “in” something they want to do.

It helps other people in a tangible or significant way.
It’s not morally objectionable.
It promises to be successful financially.
People from the church (especially the pastors or leaders) approve of, support and/or promote it.
It catches on and people generally love it.
It’s not hard for you to do it, and you never get discouraged, challenged, blocked, rejected or criticized when doing it.
You never get tired of it and can do it effortlessly, and you just want to keep doing it forever.

I’ve heard people tell me the reason they believe God “wasn’t in” something they were doing is because the things listed above DIDN’T happen.

So, it didn’t really help other people that much – it was just a thing they liked, or perhaps even loved, to do for themselves.
They made little or no money.
Their church didn’t understand what they were doing, and failed to support or promote them.
People generally didn’t notice or appreciate what they were doing, and even seemed disinterested.
It was hard work and was frequently challenging, or they were criticized and critiqued, rejected or ignored.
Inspiration didn’t just keep on coming, and after the initial flush they had to push pretty hard to keep being creative and innovative.
Even when they completed what they were doing or creating, the outcome was nothing like what they expected.

In other words, it was hard work.

Basically, these ones believe if God “is in it”, it is always easy and fun, financial success is inevitable, everyone will notice and like it and nobody will criticise or reject it. Inspiration will come effortlessly, all the time, and all their dreams will come true.

Conversely, I have been assured by some if a project is easy and makes money, if people like it and you get lots of support and approval, “God isn’t in it”, because if it were really “of God”, it would be rough, uncomfortable and fruitless – supposedly because what God really wants is for us to be humble, content, and lay all our dreams on the altar.

By this logic, if it’s meant to happen, God will just make it happen, and you won’t have to do anything.

I’ve met quite a few honest, sincere God-believers who laid down their talents and dreams years ago and decided to do nothing about them. They believe if it’s really “of God”, it will just happen, and their doing nothing about it is a sign of their willingness to submit to God about it. While they are disappointed their dreams are still laying there on the altar – wonderful, vibrant, interesting and beautiful ideas, all promising to take them on an incredible, challenging, heartbreaking, exhilarating journey of discovery, learning and creativity – these ones would rather do nothing at all than ever dare begin something “God isn’t in.”

This, to me, is heartbreaking. And, I suspect, a form of self-sabotage. You can’t fail if you never try.

All these beliefs about what God is and isn’t in really have nothing to do with God. Whoever taught us God is “in” certain projects and not in others has told us an untruth.

Because God isn’t in our projects at all.

God isn’t really in anything we do. God doesn’t want to inhabit some dangerously creative, madly unpredictable idea, business or project. That’s way too ephemeral. God’s taking the best, most secure bet there is. He’s investing in a sure thing, something guaranteed to reap the kind of dividends He’s interested in. No, God isn’t in your doing. He’s in your being.

God is in you.

And if you’re doing what you’re doing from your whole, authentic being, then whatever you’re doing, God is in it.

You won’t be able to tell if God’s “in” something by looking at success, failure, approval, rejection, profit, loss, popularity or anonymity. Because all those things have nothing to do with you, your talent, your creativity, your spirit, your wisdom, creativity or capacity. And that’s where God is. He’s in those things.

Success, failure, approval, rejection, profit, loss, popularity or anonymity have only to do with others and their projections and perceptions about your project. And that’s none of your business. It certainly isn’t Gods.

He’s in the “you” business. He’s in – and interested in – you.

If your project promises to make you grow and become the best you there is, He’s in it. Whole, sole and sneakers.

Nope – whatever others think or do or say or spend or like, it hasn’t got anything to do with God being “in” your project.

What matters is whether YOU are in your project.

And are you? Are you really in it? Do you love this thing you’re doing with your whole heart? If your whole heart is in it, God is in it.

It may help millions, or the joy it brings may be yours alone. It may make millions of dollars. It may cost you all you have. It may be easy or challenging, people may appreciate it or they may never understand it. But if you are in it – and you know it’s truly, authentically, you, all the way through, then darling, God is absolutely in it.

Don’t give up, don’t give in. You know what you were made to do. Tell your story. Make the decision. Step across the line. Give your whole heart.

Because GOD IS IN IT.

Love, Jo xxx

A god with dirty feet.

I can’t give up being a Christian. God knows, I’ve tried.
The thing I find most compelling about Christianity isn’t the church, the Bible, the promises, the grace, the hope or the salvation. In fact, on any given day, I question what those things actually mean, and what they mean to me.
I don’t find Christianity particularly compelling. But still, I can’t leave it. I think I’ve worked out what it is that makes me stay.
What I find most compelling about Christianity is Jesus Christ.
And what I find most compelling about Jesus Christ is his humanity.
For Jesus Christ to be made of god is important, and important to me. But him being made of dirt and blood and bone is far more important as far as I’m concerned.
I need to know he is like me.
So many religions and paths try to convince me I am a kind of god whose basic problem is I need to lose my humanity – that I will not be enlightened/transcendent/evolved/abundant/all-fixed-up unless I unbecome all the things a human being is.
Dirt, blood and bone.
Flawed, imperfect, vulnerable.
Damaged, scarred, wounded.
Shackled to memories. Tied to others.
A product of my past. Afraid for the future.
Hungry. Thirsty. Naked.
Nailed inside my head, my heart and my humanity.
But I just can’t do it. Because those things connect me to others, help me help them, help me help them heal. And I think Jesus Christ got this. It was a stroke of genius, so simple, and so misunderstood. It’s not his god-ness we love and need so much. It’s his us-ness.
………………………………………………………….
They killed a tree with a blade of iron
a tree that grew in the earth long before they were even born
hacked it in pieces
split into beams it took two of them to carry
on their shoulders to a hill
a burial mound
and they broke up the body of a man three different ways
rent that body until the sap flowed out and on the ground
on their hands
and they pounded the iron into his meat
planted him in the ground
mocking creation and the creator and creativity
look at me, I am man and I can kill
as if ending life meant it was somehow transcended
but the killer died long ago
and the one he kills can never die

…………………………………………………………
I want Christianity because I want a religion and a god of flaws, imperfection, vulnerability – a god of earth, blood and bone. I want a god with dirty feet. I want a god who knows what it means to be abandoned, misunderstood, abused, rejected, broken and sworn at. I want a god they suspected was mentally ill, accused of being a heretic, cast aspersions upon regarding his character, his origins and his motives. I want a god of mood swings, anger, generosity and grace. I want a god who has experienced shaming and blaming, ignorance, injustice and prejudice. I want a god who doesn’t have complete control. I want a god who cries and rails and who sometimes gets there too late to do any good. I want a god who sees people. I want a god who was born and died like any other human being.
I want Jesus Christ.

Soul Letters For The Cancer Sojourner #6 – Letting Other People Be Part Of Your Story When You Have Cancer

It can be challenging including others in a cancer experience.

When things are at their worst, we want to protect the people we love from feeling the same anxiety and confusion we are. So we smile when we feel like crying. We hide behind a locked door, telling folks it’s “not a good day”. We stay in when we could go out. We change the subject, force a laugh, literally put on a brave face as they walk in the room – and take it off again when they go, collapsing from the exhaustion of trying to be one of those ones everybody brags on who “never complains”.

And then there are the times when we just want to punch people in the head for being so nice.

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

Sometimes, being a cancer hero is just bloody hard work.

Nobody wants to be a cancer whiner. We don’t even want to hear about it any more, so why would anyone else? Cancer isn’t very exciting, not nearly as exciting and interesting as others seem to think. Can’t we just change the subject?

“Can I come around and see you?” Can you come around and look at me, you mean. Sure! Bring your friends! You can all go out to lunch afterwards and have something interesting to talk about! OR NOT.

Yep, it’s challenging, knowing how to include others in a cancer experience.

There’s not many things worse than feeling patronised, placated and pussy-footed around. But as someone with a scary disease,  allowing others to come around you and give their little offerings to you in the ways they know how is really important for them. It lets them know they have power against cancer too, because they are shit-scared and feel inadequate and intimidated, just like you. Allowing others near you gives meaning and purpose to them in the cancer, at a time when they may be feeling completely useless and powerless.

They’ll tell you later, “Do you remember when I….”, and you may not even remember what they did and when they did it, but they will. And that matters.

Let go, and let others. Even if it’s only sometimes. There ain’t no medals for this, you know.

*****

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Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner – #5 My name is not ‘Cancer’

Before I was diagnosed with stage 3B Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in July, 2003, my life was pretty great. My husband Ben and I and our four children lived in big house in a gorgeous seaside town, where I ran a well-known furniture and homewares shop. Our children attended the local Christian school, and we were members of a Christian evangelical community church. Pretty darn awesome, really.

Then one day, everything changed. I was teaching a patchwork class in my shop, and was trying to concentrate whilst feeling like someone was throttling me in slow, silent increments. Swallowing was like trying to digest a dry sock. My chest rattled when I breathed. Slowly, my consciousness began to slip away, as if a door to nowhere had opened behind me and I was being sucked into it. A voice in my head said “You need to go now, right now. If you don’t, pretty soon something terrible is going to happen.”

I called Ben, who took me to the nearest hospital. I talked to a concerned looking doctor who sent me for an x-ray. After seven months of being dismissed by my family doctor as a middle-aged woman with a mild case of gout and a major case of peri-menopausal hysteria, within an hour of being at the hospital they found a tumour the size of a saucer in my chest.

“You’re going to need a bigger hospital.” said the doctor.

I was in shock, and that was to be expected. But what was not as expected was how quickly I went from being who I was before they found the cancer inside me to something else entirely. People began to see me and treat me differently, and the change began almost right away.

The doctor at the first hospital who initially greeted me with concern and curiosity, now backed away with a look resembling abject terror on his face. What changed?

The friend who came to visit me in hospital, with whom we’d shared a glass of wine with just the week before, who now stood with his hands in his pockets and a look of rank suspicion on his face. “You don’t look like someone who has cancer,”  he said. Was I was just wasting everyones time?

The visitors who dropped in unannounced whenever it was convenient for them, even though before I had cancer they’d never have come around without calling first. What happened to my privacy?

Being called “darling”, “love”, “pet” and “sweetie” even though I was a grown woman with darlings, loves, pets and sweeties of my own. Was I not still an adult?

Being told what a hero I was, when I hadn’t really done anything except exactly what everyone in charge told me to do, nothing except lie there and take whatever they did to me. I hadn’t been brave. I was scared, confused, angry, often cried like a big sook, told people to go the hell away, and even said I didn’t want any more treatment, even if it meant dying of cancer. Why did everyone keep calling me “brave’?

And the worst – being referring to as “the diffused B-cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma”. Why did everyone now call me by the same name as the thing I hated, the thing I never asked to get, the thing I was trying so hard to get rid of?

It almost seemed as though everything I did and was before cancer didn’t matter any more. I wasn’t a grown woman, a mum, a wife or businessperson any more, and we were no longer just a family of six – we were now, in others eyes, a tragedy in waiting. I was a a character in a story, an anecdote people told each other, a cancer patient – a hero.

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it can feel like your identity changes. People often treat and speak to you differently, which can be frustrating, annoying and downright upsetting. People may also view you through the lens of their own beliefs and experience of cancer, and if those beliefs and experiences are negative, it can feel as if you’re walking around with “cancer” written in black marker across your forehead, scaring everyone half to death.

They avoid looking you in the eye, and if they do, it’s as if you already died.

The good news is we don’t have to be  the “cancer victim” or “cancer hero” others want us to be, physically, or socially. We can teach people how we’d like them to treat us.

If I could go back in time to when I had cancer and tell myself one thing, it would be this –

“Jo – You get to choose how you act, what you’re called, and where cancer sits in the bigger picture of your life. Cancer is something that happened to you – but you are not the cancer.”

If someone calls you brave, and you don’t feel brave, tell them you don’t feel brave, and follow up with how you do feel.

If someone uses a diminutive to address you such as “sweetheart” just because you have cancer, and this makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay to say so. Kindly.

If someone insists on dropping by at an inopportune time, or wants to visit and you feel uncomfortable about it, politely decline. It’s okay to say “Thank you, but not right now.” and close the door. It’s okay to insist on privacy even though you’re sick.

And most importantly, find someone you can talk to about how you’re really feeling. This may be an empathic friend, cancer coach, social worker, health professional, counsellor, psychologist or family doctor.

And, as kindly as you can, let folks know whilst cancer is something you’re experiencing right now, it hasn’t become your identity. Cancer is happening to your body, but you’re still “in there” behind those eyes. Your name is not and never will be “cancer”.

*****

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Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer – The Conversation Begins

(An excerpt from the prologue of Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer.)

 

One day in July 2003 I woke up, got myself dressed, left home for work and didn’t go home again at the end of the day. Instead, I went to hospital and stayed there. After several months of feeling unwell and being dismissed by my doctor as a hysterical, overworked middle-aged female, on this particular day I found out exactly what was wrong with me.

I had cancer.

In fact, I had a very big cancer. The tumour in my chest was the size of a saucer by the time it was found. My husband Ben took me to the emergency room at our local hospital where an x-ray revealed the huge mass behind my sternum. I was rushed to a bigger hospital in the next town, then flown to an even bigger hospital in the city where stage 3B Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was diagnosed. I started treatment immediately – three months of chemotherapy and two of radiotherapy – much of which I was obliged to have in a city four hundred kilometres away from my family and friends.

After finishing chemo in September 2003, I went to Sydney where I stayed for two months for radiotherapy, 400km away from my family and friends in Nambucca Heads, NSW.

Besides those five months of treatment, several other things started the day I was diagnosed with cancer. A military-like operation, initiated by our church friends, designed to ensure Ben and our four children didn’t starve while I was in hospital was one. With me away having cancer treatment for an undetermined period of time, the amazing and beautiful folks from our congregation and community rallied around my family with meals, housework and all kinds of wonderful messages of love and support. I’ll always be very grateful for the help we received in those first difficult months.

Another thing that started when I found out I had cancer was an avalanche of messages and good wishes. Friends, relatives and people I hardly knew phoned and wrote, and sometimes even dropped by the hospital or our home to offer their support. It seemed everybody had something helpful they wanted to say. This was when it started to become interesting. Some of the things people wrote and said to me were wonderful and very encouraging. Some, however, were – well – not so much. I discovered there are specific things people like to say to a person who has cancer. I began to think there was a list posted somewhere, because different people were saying exactly the same phrases to me on a very regular basis.

“You know, I think God is trying to teach you something through this.”

“There’s a reason for everything that happens, you know.”

“Good girl – you need to stay positive!”

“You’ll be a better person when this is all over.”

“If you believe and have enough faith, you’ll be healed.”

At first I just said ‘thank you” or “I know”, but then I began to think more deeply about these remarks. I realized I’d said exactly the same things to people before, but now I had time to think about them, I realized they didn’t make much sense. Was God really trying to teach me something by giving me cancer? Was I definitely going to be stronger, or a better person afterwards? Did I really believe if I just prayed and had enough faith, the cancer would go away? Did anyone really believe any of the things they were saying?

I talked to other people who had cancer. Yes, since they were sick, they’d heard the same things too. And just like me before they’d had cancer they’d never given the things much thought. But since their diagnoses, some of the things people said to them about cancer had become an issue too, and even caused problems in their relationships. Why? Because once those particular things were said, nobody talked about how they really felt, or said what they really thought. In fact, the things people usually said to someone with cancer seemed to be like a very good way to quickly change the subject. Someone needed to explain how people with cancer did not want to hear the same old things any more, because sometimes we did not want to change the subject. Besides, some of the things being said were not true, and didn’t help as much as people seemed to hope.

I wrote a blog post about Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer. At the time I was still angry and frustrated, and pretty soon some other angry and frustrated people responded to what I’d written. In amongst all this griping and comparing of notes, every now and then someone would be brave enough to write and ask, “So, now I know what not to say – what do I say to someone who has cancer?” For a while, I didn’t listen – I was busy airing all my grievances about the Things Not To Say. But after a while I realized it wasn’t really good enough to just tell people what they shouldn’t say. The essential problem wasn’t being solved. I’d raised awareness of the Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer, but I hadn’t given people anything to say instead.

I needed to finish my message.

Besides, there are other things I experienced when I had cancer I wanted to talk about. The impact of cancer on my life was far greater than just the physical. My diagnosis of advanced lymphoma and six subsequent months of aggressive treatment changed my life even though the treatment was successful in curing me. Post-treatment, I found my priorities changed. My goals and dreams were re-examined, reorganized and reinvented. My relationships were tried and tested, and some didn’t weather the storm. My marriage broke down as I became wracked with anxieties and my husband slid into alcoholism. A couple of my closest friendships deteriorated for reasons I didn’t fully understand. Everyone tried their hardest, but sometimes we were simply unable to make the best of ourselves available when someone else needed it the most. It was only much later I was able to process exactly what happened. It seems cancer didn’t always make us all into better people, and when it was around not everything we did for one another was particularly heroic or praiseworthy.

With support, Ben and I were able to recover our marriage, and we’ve learned a lot about each other and ourselves from that time. The fragility and complex nature of relationships means that when something like cancer comes along they can be stretched and tested, and sometimes even broken. At the same time, their robustness, prolificacy and capacity to evolve means that those relationships are potential solutions to many of our problems as well. In other words, while relationships can pose some baffling questions they can also turn out to be the answers to our problems, never more so than when we are buffeted with trials such as cancer.

Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer was never just a snarky attempt to show how annoying some people can be when others are sick, or leave the pressing question about what they might say instead hanging in the air. My hope is we can find some new ways of thinking and talking about cancer, and in particular, new ways of talking to people who have it. This book is not merely a criticism, or an attack on people who want to help the person they care about who has cancer. It asks, “Considering the scope of problems cancer brings into our lives, can we find ways to communicate which mean our relationship is not one of them?” This to me is just as important as finding a physical cure for cancer. Will you join me?

*****

Things Not To Say T Someone Who Has Cancer is available now as an e-book from Smashwords and Amazon for Kindle, and print versions can be ordered from Amazon (USA and International readers) and direct from the author (Australian readers.)