Reading the heartbreaking testimony of actress Lynda Bellingham in this week’s papers has left me, like everyone else, feeling so very sad that this beautiful lady has to face her own mortality, after being told she has two months to live when she finishes her latest round of chemotherapy and treatment for bowel cancer.
Cancer touches each and every one of us. At any one point in our lives, we have a close relative, friend, neighbour, acquaintance or colleague who faces their own individual struggle – the hard truth is that some will make it and some will not.
The ways in which people cope with their individual journeys differ greatly. Some get strength from sharing each step and declaring their wishes as to how their treatment will proceed and at what point they will cease to pursue different avenues open to them should their cancer prove incurable.
Lynda Bellingham, for example, has said how important it is for her to regain a feeling of control over her own destiny and that since deciding to cease chemotherapy, she hopes to achieve her one big wish – a last Christmas at home with her family.
Others choose to deal with the disease quietly and alone, not even confiding in close family members as to their ultimate feelings and fears.
How best can we support and assist these individual experiences that are so different from each other? What do you say to someone who is facing the fight of their lives or that of one of their loved ones?
Sadly, there are no definitive answers. How can we know what’s appropriate and what will be viewed as nosy or interfering? Is the best option to simply say nothing at all?
From my own experience, the latter option is the worst. At best, it seems as though the person you are talking to has no idea that there is a large white elephant sitting between the two of you and at worst, upset that their situation is too awkward to acknowledge.
People send their sympathies when a loved one dies, but I have found it is empathy that helps the most. The feeling that you are in someone’s thoughts is an immeasurable comfort in times of grief.
In opening up to the public, Lynda Bellingham, either consciously or not, has helped remove the eternal taboo around terminal illness.
By doing so, she will leave an unwitting but lasting legacy. Death is, in fact, as normal as life and the acceptance of this inevitability seems to have brought this wonderful lady her own kind of peace.