If I had to name a single pet peeve with social media, it would be the Facebook posts which read as follows:
With a broken heart and tears in my eyes I can honestly say this is the most difficult time ever. I know what cancer and treatment can do to a body and I sometimes wonder if it is worth it in the long haul. It seems to do more harm than good.
Nothing is more painful than trying to smile and remain positive, but after chemo and radiation, the person physically changes and they suffer with sadness. I know many of you do not give a hoot about this message, because, of course, the cancer has not affected you. You do not know what it’s like to have fought the fight, or to have a loved one who leads a battle against cancer.
For all the men and women I know, I ask you a small favor – I know only some of you will do it. If you know someone who has led a battle against cancer, is still struggling, or who passed, please add this to your status for one hour as a mark of support, respect, and remembrance.
Copy and paste to support those affected by cancer. Do Not Share. From your phone or tablet, hold your finger over the message to copy and paste to your page.
Someone Who Cares . . . Deeply
Showing Support To Those Who Are Fighting This Awful Disease
Apart from the poor quality of writing, this is an appalling thing. It is manipulative: “I know many of you do not give a hoot”. And to show you not only give a hoot, but multiple hoots, you must copy and paste–“share” is obviously inadequate. It must appear as your very own struggle (best if you can mention a particular friend or relative–by name or de-identified–on whose behalf you give your precious hoots).
Tied to the manipulation is shame. I believe shaming people for doing something morally wrong, mean, or willfully harmful is not always inappropriate. But telling people they don’t care because they don’t “copy and paste”? As if caring is measured by my putting my finger over a message and pretending it’s my own (which is why you don’t “share”–it identifies where you got this crap).
It is arrogant: “You don’t know what it’s like to have fought the fight, or to have a loved one who leads a battle against cancer.” It is a tragic truth to say there are few people over age 15 (which I believe is late in life) who have not, in some way, been up-close-and-personal with cancer. A parent, sibling, grandparent, family friend: by the time you’re in your mid-teens, someone you know has, more than likely, dealt with cancer. The outcome may have been survival (which may not mean return to things as they were), it may not. But pretty much everybody‘s life has been touched by cancer.
But apart from manipulation, inappropriate use of shame, and arrogance, there are a few big problems with “Copy and Paste if You Care! I Know Which of My Friends Will!” The first is, it’s ridiculous. At least on Planet Earth, which is where I maintain a mailing address. Go ahead and “Copy and Paste Because You Care!” if you can imagine the following scenarios on your home planet:
“I’ve just had my one-year follow up, and it looks like I’m cancer free. Thanks so much for your copy and paste of that one status for an hour! I just know it did the trick.”
Bob: John, I just wanted to let you know before you hear it from someone else. I’ve got cancer, it doesn’t look good, I may not have a lot of time left.
John: I’m so sorry, buddy. I’m here for you. Name what you need, and you’ve got it.
Bob: Thanks, man. It would really help if you did that Facebook copy-and-paste thing. A few hashtags on Twitter if you can would seal the deal.
John: Done, bro. You always know I’ve got your back. (Fist bump.)
Loved ones around a deathbed, holding the hand of someone about to pass onto whatever comes next. Handkerchiefs dabbing eyes, and weeping: “If only I had copied and pasted that status!”
Newspaper death notice:
Maria Virgomaterdei died Monday, August 15 2016, at Vassar Brothers Hospital, after a long illness. Auchmoody Funeral Home, Rt. 82, Hopewell Junction, NY, will hold no visitation or memorial service. In lieu of flowers or contributions, the family requests her to be memorialized by copying and pasting a Facebook status, or tweeting #cancersucks.
You get it.
But even these stupidities are not why the “copy and paste” burns my onions so badly.
I have said very little about it publicly, but just about a year ago, a “friendlative” (someone whose relative is married to a relative of mine, whom I would not have known otherwise, but who has become a cherished friend) was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia simultaneously with an aggressive form of pneumonia. This person was hospitalized for a total of eight months in three separate institutions–and set a record for the length of stay in the intensive care unit of a specialist cancer hospital. There were weeks of medically induced coma. There were Christmas trees of IV bags. There were prognoses of “will not likely live another week.”
My person is still alive, and is home. Still using an oxygen concentrator (and the damage from the pneumonia may be permanent), and blind, although hard to say whether it was the illness, complications, or treament which took sight. Undergoing various types of rehab. Learning to live as a blind person.
And I never “copied and pasted” a single damn status. Why? Because there are better things to do. Things which actually do something.
On the night before he was crucified, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He took his most trusted friends, who ended up unable to pray with him for a single hour. Would he have appreciated a “copy and paste” as an expression of care, solidarity, support?
In the words of Dr. Evil, how about no?
There are much better things to do as an expression of care. Here are a few we tried during our loved one’s illness (some of which we still need to do):
- If you’re a religious or spiritual person, pray for an hour (yes, the same hour you’re supposed to use for the copy-and-paste status). Prayer, unlike posting a status, takes effort, energy, attention. And it is really about whatever higher power to whom you pray, in relation to the person for whom you pray. It isn’t about your smug self-righteousness about having copied and pasted.
- Ask what is really helpful to the person–and what is not. Then do what you can from the list. Some of what we did are these:
- Visit–according to the schedule of the patient. Take into account treatment times, appointments, the person’s energy, and the times when closer-in relatives can make it. If a hospital has a limit to how many people can be in a room with a patient, always defer to the patient’s wishes and step out if a closer person (or one s/he needs to talk to) arrive.
- Take care of the patient’s immediate family. If rides need to be arranged, offer them. Ask what meals they need, and cook or purchase them. Walk their dog or clean the cat litter. Buy them an hour of Merry Maids if you can. Help with the kids’ homework.
- Provide treats and comforts. Downloads or CDs of favorite music, or audiobooks. A cozy fleece or pair of slippers. When I broke my wrist and was housebound in 2014, one of the best ways to supply treats and comforts was the Amazon Gift Card. It allowed me to get what I liked, in the format most congenial to my condition, when I needed it. If your loved one has access to a tablet, smart phone, laptop (or has someone who can do this for them), Amazon Gift Cards are great. If they’re in a hospital, it lets them ask the staff what is allowed and what is not safe–a well-meaning visitor may bring all the wrong stuff.
- Send cards–but not always flowers. In the ICU of a specialist cancer hospital, flowers are too germy, but very few microbes can grow on dry paper.
- Offer your frequent flyer miles to bring distant loved ones to visit.
- Offer rides to/from the airport for out of town visitors.
- Offer your guest room to out of town visitors.
- If the patient is a member of a faith community, ask them if they would like a visit from a leader of their congregation, or if something like home communion or being put on a prayer list is something they would find comforting. If there are printouts of sermons, ask if s/he would like you to get them and (if needed/wanted) read them to your loved one. Then make the call to the faith leader. Even if it is a religion to which you don’t belong, or can’t stand. Remember, it’s about the patient, not you.
- Knit or crochet a soft hat in a favorite color if they’ve lost their hair to chemotherapy.
- ALWAYS use the “ring theory” when you don’t know what to say.
- When they come home, learn how to use the equipment needed (hospital beds, oxygen concentrators, nebulizers) to make the transition.
- Offer to research services needed.
- If they want, be with them at doctor or rehab appointments. Help by keeping a list of questions the patient wants answered, and take notes on the answers. Learn their physical/occupational therapy exercises, and help them do their routines at home if they want.
- Learn along with them about any adaptations to a different way of living which may be the result of surviving cancer.
- Organize a fundraiser to help with expenses which aren’t covered by insurance.
- Make a donation to a reputable charity whose work provides care to patients or research on treatments and cures.
- Sign a donor card so your organs/tissues can be used for transplantation or research after your own death.
- See if your blood/plasma/bone marrow are a match if there’s the possibility they may be needed.
No single act I’ve listed is beyond the capabilities of a reasonably competent, decent adult. No single act I’ve listed is by itself heroic. None of us did all of what I’ve listed. But each of us did at least one of these, according to his/her ability and resources. Together we had it covered.
Your friend or relative is not properly remembered or honored or supported by a generic, whiny Facebook status or hashtag which does not describe him or her as a concrete human being. If all you can do is post a Facebook status, post one which tells your person’s unique story, and remembers the particular human being you loved. But don’t “copy and paste.” It’s abusive, it’s undignified, and it does nothing good whatsoever.
I’m very sorry if you think my failure to “copy and paste” means I don’t care or don’t know as much as you do. But I was kind of busy doing most of the above, and cheering on people who did things on the list I was unable to do.