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Blogging Cancer

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JR, Montreal: Love your blog. Thank you so much for posting. When you are feeling angry and frustrated, what gets you through those times? What is the best way (or ways) one can support someone who is going through - or has gone through - this whole evil cancer enchilada?

Alicia Merchant:Thanks, JR. I wish I could say I dealt with anger and frustration in some constructive way, but I can't. I usually snap at people, I become sullen and untalkative, I avoid social situations. I know now that these moments will pass; it takes too much energy to be angry and frustrated all the time. I have a dog and she probably benefits from these moods -- I tend to take her on long walks. She's good company and she never expects me to explain myself.

I don't really know how to support someone who is going through or has gone through cancer. I tend to push people away unless I want them. I guess the best thing to do is recognize when a person wants to talk and then listen, don't offer platitudes about being hopeful or optimistic or how the cancer is a blessing or lesson to be appreciated, and just be there. Don't wait to be asked for help, just help. Offer to accompany someone to doctor's appointments, go out for coffee, drop by with a book. I hated having to ask someone to do anything cancer-related with me, so I just wouldn't ask. I appreciated the people who were just around without my asking. I appreciated that they made it so I didn't have to ask for help.

Jim Sheppard: Alicia, I read with interest this entry in your blog: "Sometimes I react in a way you might not expect when the cancer thing comes up. I do talk about it quite a bit these days and I may seem like I'm completely comfortable and all right with it. But sometimes I'll do things like burst into tears, even if you don't see it coming. Or I might get angry and defensive and contradict everything you say. Or I'll give really short, non-committal answers to your questions to avoid bursting into tears or being angry and contradictory. Just, I don't know, don't take it personally."

I've seen close friends die of cancer. My dad fought a successful (for 30 years) battle against lung cancer. But I still don't know what to say to someone I care about when I learn that he or she has cancer. Any advice about the right way to discuss this?

Alicia Merchant: I wish I did have advice about the right way to discuss cancer (I keep coming up with answers only to delete them). People have asked me this before, and I never know how to answer. You could react the same way on two different days and I would respond differently each time. And what I want to hear might not be what someone else wants to hear.

Generally when the subject of cancer comes up with people who don't know I've had it, I've always appreciated the people who take it in stride.

Rasha Mourtada, globeandmail.com: That's all the time that we have for today. Thank you, Alicia, for joining us online. Are there any last thoughts you'd like to leave us with?

Alicia Merchant: I just want to thank everyone for their incredibly thoughtful questions. It was a challenge to answer them -- unfortunately there aren't any hard and fast rules for addressing the subject of cancer when it comes up in our lives. Just remain open and supportive. And if you aren't sure how to appropriately deal with any given situation, just ask. Thanks again.

Rasha Mourtada, globeandmail.com: To our readers, we're sorry we couldn't get to all of your questions today, and, because Ms. Merchant was here to talk about her personal experience, she wasn't able to answer questions relating to policy or medical issues. We encourage you to participate in our cancer discussions with Lisa Priest ,who will be joining us on Friday, and Andre Picard, who will be joining us on Monday.

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