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[This was written in response to a friend’s blog post, and originally left there as a comment. I will leave it to Friend to decide whether to link the original in a comment. Here is Micah’s original post.]

You can feel bad, while still recognizing that someone else feels worse. That’s okay.

You can be sympathetic, and wish you could do something, even when you can’t.

If you’re geographically nearby, and you offer to help, do the best you can to offer concrete things, rather than just “anything I can do.” Say, I will drive you to chemo next week, or I will make and freeze a casserole so you have something to eat that doesn’t require work (but ask what they can eat!), or loan them a stack of fun books or DVDs.

Someone newly diagnosed with cancer is swamped with generic “Anything I can do” but may still be at a loss for specifics.

And sometimes there isn’t anything you can do.

It does truly make a difference to know that other people notice. Moral support is still support, and it matters. Yes, even at the same time as there’s a glib “had this conversation five thousand times” veneer, it still matters.

Cancer is overwhelming, and all-encompassing. It’s all you do and think about for a while, and then you settle into the new routine of treatment, recovery from treatment, knowledge that your body has rebelled and is trying to kill you, if without intent or malice. Cancer instantly changes many of the things that form your self-identity, from “healthy” and “active” to more subtle things, like “reads a lot of fiction” or “writes on weekends.” Because you can’t always, and it’s soul-crushing far beyond the obvious.

And you’re right, you don’t know how that feels (and I’m happy for that), and you can’t help. And if you ask casually, you’ll probably hear “pretty good,” for whatever the current definition is. (Which may be: not dead and the anti-nausea meds are working, or it may be more or less than that.)

But if you ask again, you may hear more. And you still won’t be able to do anything except listen, but that’s better than turning away.

Be honest, look, speak, write. Don’t turn away. Fear thrives in secrecy and silence, the kind of fear that destroys people all on its own. Fight it in any way you can.