When word about my Cancer diagnosis spread out, the response was heartwarming. To know I am loved, valued and supported by so many people is truly overwhelming at times. It’s so easy to get caught up in life and my small corner of the world and ignore or underestimate the impact I have made on people’s lives. It’s easy to forget that every interaction you have with people, even strangers, has some sort of impact. What you take away from that interaction could be totally different from what they take from it.
Growing up on a farm in Vermont, my brother Tim and I often played in the woods and built many forts. We had some younger friends about a mile or two down the road that would join us from time to time. As the years passed and we all went our separate ways becoming young men and finding our paths, a chance meeting at a convenience store had us reminiscing about the ‘fort building’ days. Here I stood with this 20 something year old young man with a huge grin on his face talking about a time when he was in his single digits getting dirty playing in the woods with hatchets! Honestly, among all the things that had transpired in my life in that same time frame, the memory was deeply buried, but he pulled it to the surface with pride as one of his fondest childhood memories. I could almost smell the pine and feel the sap that we would ultimately go home and work feverishly to scrub from our skin along with many layers of happy dirt. Indeed those were good times I was glad to hear they had meant so much to him. I had no idea at the time the impact childhood playtime would have on our lives.
This young man and his brother were among the first to contact me when my diagnosis went public. Despite living in other parts of the country, through the power of social media we were instantly connected and again, my heart was warmed by their acknowledgment and love. In contrast to that, I have noticed others even closer to me that have yet to acknowledge my diagnosis. I know they care and are holding me up in prayer, yet it seems to fall short. I question my need for this acknowledgment and try to brush it aside. Am I being selfish? Shouldn’t it be enough to know they are supporting me in prayer? After all, isn’t that what’s most important?
After much thought and debate with myself on this subject I have come to realize the importance of acknowledgment. I also have noticed my past lack of acknowledgment for others! When my wife and I disagree, she is usually pretty quick to acknowledge my feelings or point of view. Even if she doesn’t feel the same way, she gives me the power of acknowledging me. I feel that this is a key ingredient in keeping a disagreement from becoming an argument. When you acknowledge someone, they feel it. Doesn’t mean you agree with them, but it goes a long way in keeping the disagreement civil.
When you bust your butt at work, even if you love what you are doing, you want acknowledgment weather you admit it or not. It feels really good that the boss, supervisor or coworker takes notice. Acknowledgment is affirmation and we need that. Just like your dog needs that pat on the head and ‘good dog’ phrase of acknowledgment.
Reflecting on my past, I know I have denied many people acknowledgment and, knowing what I now know, I regret that. I would run into someone I know that had lost a friend or family member and I was too afraid to give them condolences for fear that it might remind them (like they could forget) and tear the scab off the wound. Yes, it may sting a bit, but my acknowledgment and affirmation would outweigh that and I doubt they would walk away thinking I was a jerk for it. Instead I earned the Jerk badge! They probably walked away thinking ‘Geeze! I can’t believe he didn’t say anything! What a jerk!’
I know I have Cancer. I know it could cost me my life. There is nothing anyone can say that I haven’t already thought about a million times. The ‘old me’ couldn’t get past the awkwardness of what to say to someone hurting. “I’m sorry” may seem to fall short but in reality, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ thing to say. In fact, It’s not about what to say at all! It’s about acknowledgment. I need acknowledgment. Call me selfish if you don’t agree, but when someone talks to me and acknowledges my situation it gives me great comfort and comfort is what Cancer Patients need, not avoidance (which tends to be received as not caring) Cancer is scary and terrifying. I will never withhold acknowledgment from anyone again!