COLUMN: Calls for assistance require thought

NANAIMO - People shouldn't assume others don't know how it feels to deal with cancer.

People shouldn’t judge others without knowing anything about them.

I had an upsetting conversation with my mother the other week about some individuals who had called her from the Canadian Cancer Society looking for donations. The conversation she had with the volunteer was the root of the problem.

The volunteer was phoning individuals for donations. It’s a common practice that many organizations need to help support research and local support programs for families touched by cancer.

This volunteer had contacted my mother especially to ask her to donate some of her artwork for an upcoming fundraising event to give as a prize to participants.

My mother declined to donate her artwork. She doesn’t believe in giving prizes at events but feels that people should participate in fundraisers because they feel strongly about the cause.

The volunteer, according to my mother, then proceeded to tell her she had no idea what these families, who are touched by cancer, go through.

My mother is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was in elementary school. She underwent both radiation and chemotherapy.

My mother doesn’t usually like to share anything about her cancer with others.  She barely even wants to speak about her experience with her family. She doesn’t attend any special cancer survivor dinners or events. She’s a private person and probably isn’t going to be happy with me about sharing this story. However, I feel it’s important to let people know that cancer touches everyone and that people shouldn’t assume that just because a person looks well they haven’t had some sort of illness or aren’t currently undergoing anything at the moment.

I could tell that the conversation with the volunteer had upset her.  And in turn it also upset me.

I remember when I was in elementary school and my mother was undergoing treatment. When my mother was first diagnosed I didn’t know what was going on. I don’t think my parents quite knew how to tell me about the diagnosis. I’m not sure they themselves knew how to deal with it.

The treatment was harsh. My mother was part of an experimental treatment at the time and is the only one that survived out of five other women that were also undertaking the treatment.

I think I blocked out a lot of memories from the time. I don’t remember much. I remember visiting her in the hospital. My mother hates the smell of hospitals now because she associated it with her treatment.

I remember my mother losing her hair and how it upset her. She decided to wear a hat to cover it up. She lost her fingernails from the treatment and a few of her back teeth also fell out I think. They had to continually stop treatment for certain amounts of time because it was too harsh and her blood cell count needed to rebuild before they proceeded again.

During some of her most intensive treatment I stayed with my grandparents. I didn’t like it because we couldn’t take my cat to their house.

My cat was my rock at that time in my life. When I didn’t have either of my parents I told her all my secrets and worries. Not having my cat at my grandparent’s house made the situation worse.

Since my mother underwent treatment there have been several advancements in treatments. These advancements are thanks to people who have donated time and money to the cause. I have also supported the cause through money and by growing out my hair and donating it for wigs.

The Canadian Cancer Agency is an important cause to support but volunteers should be aware that there are many people that have been affected by the disease. And the person they are talking to on the other end of the phone could be a cancer survivor.