by - August 17, 2011

There is a technique in counseling called "normalizing." Since this is not an academic blog, subject to peer review, I will just say normalizing is helping the client who is in crisis feel more normal. In crisis we may feel alone, misunderstood, hopeless, like we are spiraling. Normalizing reminds us this terrain has been tread before, and the reactions we are having to this crisis are reasonable (as long as they truly are reasonable). It can help someone who is totally untethered to hope feel more anchored in the midst of their circumstance. Although their situation is unique to them, and normalizing doesn't solve their problem, it can help the spiral to slow down long enough to get their bearings.

This technique can be really helpful to allow people to feel what they are feeling, and possibly introduce a new perspective. But here is where normalizing kind of has an opposite affect: Cancer. Normalizing with a family, or at least for my family, has turned out to not be helpful under our current diagnosis. All cancers are different; all treatments are different. There doesn't seem to be a way to normalize cancer. Here is the story of a recent conversation. The main characters are me and “Friend:”

Friend: “I’ve been wanting to ask how your dad is doing.”

Me: (being caught in one of those moments where tears win over trying to stay cool) “Well, we had a wonderful weekend. My brother and family, and two of my uncles were with us on Saturday, and we had a great day together. He looked the best I’ve seen him since this started.”

Friend: (Hugging me as I tried to dry it up) “I am praying for your Dad, and for you. I know what a difficult time this is.”

Friend is a wonderful caring person. It would have been great if our time together had stopped there. She absolutely showed love and care, and that is what I needed. However, out of Friend’s kind heart she wanted to encourage me more, she was about to try and normalize my experience by sharing hers. I know for a fact, as a devotee to normalization I have done this many times to others in an effort to make them feel not alone, or give a word of encouragement. “Well I know this story of so and so who had cancer and they are alive.” Not that bluntly stated, but some version of that. I’m sorry if I have ever tried to normalize you as you faced cancer with your family. I won't do that anymore. I’ll come sit and cry with you, and pray for you, but I won’t ask you to think further ahead than the moment we are in, or outside of God’s hand in your details. Friend’s concern for me and for dad was a great blessing, but her own cancer story, right now, was not. That is a very important distinction. Friend meant no offense. I took no offense. In no way do I think Friend is inconsiderate, or uncaring. She was sharing with me out of love. But I can't keep listening to stories that send me to my desk in tears; Mom and Dad can't listen to stories anymore either. I don’t speak/write for Chris…but go easy on him, too. I will, and mom will, gently redirect conversations going forward. We are in the throes of it right now and need to stay focused on what God is doing in Dad's life. God is giving us the strength to get through this, but our hearts aren't strong enough to compare and contrast with other cancer patients; which is the inevitable result of hearing other stories at this time. Friend really does have a good story of how God was faithful to her and carried her through the biggest heartbreak in her life. But her story makes me unable to breathe, and I really need to be able to breathe right now. It is not the time for me to identify with the point of her story. The point she was hoping to make was unfortunately not the echo that I walked away with.

I hope this comes across gracefully frank. It may sound kind of bossy, (if so, that is the first time I have ever been accused of that), to ask that you not tell us other cancer stories, and yet still covet your prayers, still desire to hear you are praying for us, or talk with you about how Dad is doing, or just talk with you about anything else; but this is the nature of where we are, we have to ask especially for Dad’s sake. If you read this blog that I love writing and find so much joy in, then you hopefully know us well enough to understand our hearts on this. The exceptions are our loved ones going through cancer and illness right now too. My namesake, who is the “Lougene” of Haley Lougene, is battling cancer right now too. We’ve been praying for her for months, and love hearing what God is doing in her life. We are not shutting down and out of the lives or trials of our loved ones. It is a blessing to pray with and for them, but we are just not accepting any additional tales of cancer beyond our own garden at this time.

So my hope is if you are in our support group please don’t stop checking on us! I love the texts I get, and e-mails from friends. Mom and Dad love the homemade jam, the borrowed movie collections, the lawn mowing, the phone calls, the smoked brisketJ, the cards, the baskets of treats, and the visits. These things have encouraged them so much. Daddy has been especially touched by all of the kindness he has been shown. These acts and words of kindness show them you care. We are unspeakably grateful for such amazing family and friends. I’m especially grateful for the women who have come around my mom to support her as she cares for Daddy. (What is this leaking from my eyes?) I would like mom to put a note on their door that says "Cancer is not discussed here, but feel free to talk Religion or Politics." Get it? I don't know if she'll do it though…she sees my bossy coming a mile away, and doesn’t always mind me.

Dad has completed 8 rounds of chemotherapy. He has this week off. He has begun to gain a little weight back, as mom is the Paula Dean of Kay County. Although she normally tries to cook healthy, her man needed to put on some weight so the gloves have come off. Whatever Daddy wants... He is scheduled for at least a few more weeks of chemo, as we are still working to put the cancer in remission. Dad will not lose his hair, he reports his back pain is better, and he isn't having the reactions to the chemo he first had. We look forward to being in remission, and scheduling the bone marrow transplant soon. He doesn't have a lot of energy, but he is up and at 'em everyday. Sometimes, when life is making me tired, Dad sings me this little song: “Oh you gotta get up and at ‘em everyday. Expect that you’ll get knocked down on the way…something something something…don’t be bitter or a quitter….oh you gotta get up and at ‘em everyday.” I never can remember all the words to that song.

Psalm 61

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  1. Haley, tell your dad that I am singing that song right along with him. What a guy :)! In spite of the pain, riding along with God on this journey is quite an adventure! I love your blog, keep it coming and thank you for sharing your heart. I love and miss you and will continue to pray for all! Hugs & Kisses, Miss Bossy!!! Shari Halterman

  2. Very frank... and very graceful! I love you, Haley and it is an absolute honor to pray for you and your family during your personal journey. I can't wait to get back to work and HUG YOUR NECK and see your beautiful smile!