This is the kind of thing we generally don’t worry about until we’re faced with it – and therein lies the problem. Someone you love says “Hey there – the most outrageously awful unimaginable thing you can think of has just happened to me.” and you say “…. er … um … so sorry” Or maybe you blurt out one of these awful lines”:
“Wow! A girl in my office just died of that,” or
“You must have really bad karma,” or
“Nowadays breast cancer is like having a cold.”
Or maybe the first thing out of your mouth is a tired cliche like:
“Everything happens for a reason,” or
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
I know, right?
Now that we’re talking about this, I bet you’d genuinely like to better at it, wouldn’t you? I know I would. And I also know, as a recent survivor of breast cancer that I wish some of my family and friends had been better at it too. (Though in fairness, for the most part my peeps were pretty awesome).
Well, Letty Cottin Pogrebin to the rescue. Letty is an award winning journalist, the founder of Ms. Magazine, and she’s written several books, both fiction and non. Her new book, HOW TO BE A FRIEND TO A FRIEND WHO’S SICK, is both her personal story of surviving breast cancer and her instruction guide on what to say, what not to say and what to never, ever, ever say.
Not only a great read for everyone who has any friends or family at all and may some day find themselves at a loss for words…um which is to say everyone… but it’s also a great read for someone who is or has been sick. I say this because I found the book comforting. It was like sitting down with a girlfriend and comparing notes on our cancers. And I’m not a joiner, so I don’t do the support groups or forums or any of that. At this point, whether or not she knows it, Letty is my friend. When she said things like “How dare I complain when others are going through so much worse,” I said “Yeah… me too… I totally get that.” And that was just the beginning. I also loved that she says two of the “purest words” ever said to her “Oh fuck.” And on it went. In fact, I got out my little green post-it tabs and look what happened.
So, what’s better than having this book in hand? Getting to meet Letty in person. Which I will get to do next week for an on-stage interview at the Book Festival of the MJCCA. (Noon on Friday November 8th). If you’re in Atlanta and can join us, please do. I’ve interviewed lots of authors in my day, but no book has hit as close to home as this one, so I expect the conversation to be very frank, and hopefully as funny and entertaining as it is helpful and real.