More on “3 Things to Avoid.” And a story.


This morning, my ol’pal Chris sent me the following email as a comment on the “Tips for Cancer Conversations” post (August 20, 2014)

It’s way too good to live down there in the “Comments” section. Chris gets to the point more succinctly than I do – and adds an amusing vignette from her not-so-typical Catholic grammar school days.

Please read and enjoy. Chris writes:

Here’s my summary of your “3 Things to Avoid” post. I pictured a series of T-shirts  — or something — printed with each of 3 tips. 
1. Don’t tell me I look great. I’m not blind; I have cancer. 2. No martial metaphors or allusions allowed within my hearing. 3. If I’m looking for sympathy, I’ll look in the dictionary between “shit” and “syphilis.” Or if that’s too harsh, which it probably is, then maybe: “Don’t ask me how I’m feeling because I’m sure you’re smart enough to figure that out for yourself.”

When I was in grammar school, I attended the local parochial version, St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette. There were 63 kids in my first grade class. All from good Catholic families, based on numbers alone. Our teacher was Sister Alice Marie, a very diminutive nun — although one with whom you did not mess. And we all learned to read, etc.

We also had a speech teacher—as in “speech and drama.” Looking back now, I imagine that Mrs. Cavanaugh was a volunteer. Memory leads me to say that she taught our class once a week. She would have skits all ready to for us to dramatize. She planned ahead for a great number of roles in an effort to involve as many of the kids as possible. As a result, there were always lots of unusual roles. Today, that would be considered a creative opportunity for a six-year-old. Mrs. Cavanaugh was simply being practical. Once, I played a dishtowel. I don’t recall how it figured in the skit.

So that costumes were never necessary and to help the kids keep track of the parts they were playing, she had pre-made signs on cardboard with the specific item name on it. The actor wore the sign around his neck.

Your tips about avoiding conversational traps with cancer patients made me think of those skits. I thought about how clever Mrs. Cavanaugh was and how useful it would be to have signs around our necks to alert folks to avoid land mines that are otherwise buried in chatter. It would be pretty wierd, though, to wear a sign as an accessory. 

Keep blogging. And if it will help your cause, I’ll print up a sign. Or a T-shirt.

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