Thursday, August 2, 2007


I've been avoiding this entry for quite some time. I've attempted to type it once or twice, and then deleted the entry after deciding I hadn't found the right words. So, with that in mind, the intention of this entry is to provide an opportunity for a little freedom or at least the space for who ever it applies to, to be perfectly okay right where you are; at least when it comes to your relationship with me and this cancer I was diagnosed with.

What inspired me to write this entry was a conversation I had with a very close friend today. She called while I was sitting on the deck and reading and listening to the creek. I hadn't heard from her since the benefit (in May) and she acknowledged that she had been putting off calling me because she hadn't come to terms with my having cancer (or something to that effect); she didn't feel comfortable making the phone call. After she finished telling why she hadn't called and apologized for it, I let her know her how amazing she is and how happy I am for her to have made the call. It was great to hear her voice.

I'm very familiar with what she was experiencing. A couple of years ago, my friend Mary, who I love and respect (in fact she's a huge inspiration) was diagnosed with cancer. Mary was my coach in a rigorous 6 1/2 month leadership program (or at least it was rigorous in my world). After a few calls to her, so I could check in and see how she was doing, I stopped calling. My first calls to her were easy because I was already in communication with her two to three times a week. Then, I stopped calling.

At first I didn't call her because I just didn't want to be a bother. I wanted to give Mary and her husband the space to deal with the diagnosis and everything that came with it. Then after some time passed, I didn't call because I wasn't sure if it would be a good time and I definitely didn't want to interfere, not to mention I knew it had to be an emotional time for the both of them. After I hadn't called for many months, I began to have feelings of guilt. I started to think, "Oh man. I really should call her. But it's been so long now. It will be weird if I call her now. So much time has passed."

I began to judge myself for not calling and conveniently put off calling her until I received a call from a friend who said Mary hadn't been hearing from a lot of us in the program and she was wondering why. I eventually called her and explained what was going on for me. She was great - happy to hear from me and more than happy to accept my apology.

When I was diagnosed and got through the initial shock and horror of it all, I started to get calls from friends and family. I didn't hear from some people I thought I would hear from and I did hear from some folks who I never imagined I'd hear from. What I knew right from the beginning was each person deals with cancer exactly how they deal with cancer and no other way. And that's just how it is.

When my father was dying and my sister and brother and I were making logistical phone calls and figuring out how soon we could get to Boston to be with my step-mom and him, I made sure to let both of them know that I had no expectation of how they should deal with Dad's death and dying. Few things in life impact us as powerfully as death and I was committed to giving both of them whatever space they needed to be with it - however they needed to be. I"ll admit I was a bit surprised once or twice by some of the reactions or choices that were made, but each of us was going to deal with Dad's death in the way that seemed right to us whether or not it seemed "acceptable" to each other. Who was I to tell anyone how to deal with the loss of their own father.

Prior to my diagnosis, I equated cancer to death. I saw very little difference between what I believed to be a certain path to death (cancer) and death itself. When I heard that someone had cancer, all I imagined was immense suffering and the strong possibility of death. When I spoke to someone with cancer, I had the same feelings that I'd felt at a wake, even though the person was still alive (some of who still are). I mostly feared saying the wrong thing or not saying the right thing. What do you say to someone who has been diagnosed with a life threatening disease, I would ask myself. Now I know. "How are you feeling?" is a pretty good start.

What I can tell you now is that, just like when I lost my father and just like when my friend was diagnosed, I am clear that each of you will deal with and interpret my cancer diagnosis in what ever way you deal with it. For some, it is what it is and you are okay with it. For others, it may bring up some things that you aren't ready to deal with or don't care to deal with right now.

What I want you to know is that I am really okay with it if you're not up for a call or an email. Like I stated earlier, I wasn't able to be with people's cancer before I was diagnosed. I loved them from afar and that was all I had to offer and today I'm okay with that. Cancer is a big deal. It ain't no broken leg. So, if you're in that category of people, I know you're thinking of me, and I'm totally getting the support I need. However, if you're judging yourself, consider yourself forgiven. Or if you feel the need to be punished for it, do the following: hold your left hand out in front of you, palm down, and slap the top of it once with your right hand. There. You have been sufficiently punished. Now go enjoy your day. For the rest of you, thanks for checking in.


  1. Your candidness and openness to sharing is so beautiful and inspiring.

  2. Although we have never met face to face, Daniella was my professor last semester, and I feel a connection to the whole family as she spoke frequently of all of you. I hope you are feeling well and are keeping positive! If you ever start to feel down, you always know you have a great support system to fall back are one of the lucky ones (and never forget that). Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings, as they were probably terribly difficult to write. It shows your strength and courage.

  3. Bert, what a TREAT for me today to see you again and to meet Daniella and Beau! I look forward to seeing all of you again next week.

    I read your most recent blog with understanding and with great admiration for you. One of the things I learned as "the minister's wife" is how difficult it is for others to talk candidly to the sick, dying, widowed, etc., and how very much those very people NEED to talk about their reality -- that it's a great relief for them to be able to talk candidly about what they're going through and how they're feeling about it. Your reminiscence of your own difficulty talking to your friend Mary was an excellent window into how the silence begins, what feeds it, and how difficult it is to come back from it. Your generosity of spirit in recognizing that everyone just IS where they are, and that that's totally all right, is astounding. But then, YOU are astounding, and Daniella -- well, she's just beyond vocabulary, isn't she!

    Love and huggggs to all,

  4. Dear Bert, never before have I encountered such grace, integrity of thought, and absolute beauty in a man faced with cancer than that which you have managed to communicate to all who care so deeply for you, and who want you well again. You inspire and give love, and that--in the face of tremendous challenge! My hat is forever off to both you and Daniela . . . with love and gratitude for the gift of your friendship.

    I have enjoyed reading you! I have also been awed by what you say. Your attitude is wise and your perspective more than insightful. Today, for example you wrote about how some people, who care about you very much, may also be the friends who don't call, come by, or write much (if at all). You mentioned a scenario that rings familiar to me. And, as you keenly surmise, it is the same for others. Bert, your ability to apprehend the inner nature of things, to empathize, and to forgive, to understand, to tolerate, to communicate, and to reason with beautiful logic, puts you into a category of human development that has relatively few members.

    Thank you for continuously sharing your thoughts, feelings, ideas and growing knowledge. I pray you to be healthy, Mary

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this blog. I come to it from time to time to read what you have to say. It is helpful and in some ways a comfort to me as I have been coming to terms with my father's cancer. He was well and it was easy to forget he had even been sick. Unfortunately, now he is not so well and it is indeed hard to come to face.

    I admire you and your family. You are all very courageous! Rarely have I had the opporunity to see such beauty in the world. So, thank you for your generosity and my arms are raised in a cheer and encouragement to all of you!