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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tholian Web

Imagine you go to a party with your best friend, and he (or she) has been to the Grand Canyon, but you have not. You meet a new person at the party who has been to the Grand Canyon. What happens? Your best friend and this new person instantly hit it off, laughing and joking about Grand Canyon things that, well, you just don't get. What the hell's so grand about the Grand Canyon? You try to stay in the conversation, because you've heard or read things about the Grand Canyon, but it's just not the same.

I can explain what having cancer is like, but until you also have it, we don't really have a common frame of reference. If you've been in a real-life fox hole, it's the same thing for me, I didn't experience that kind of terror. You can appreciate my predicament, or me yours, but real empathy requires shared experience. Keep this in mind when you talk to someone with cancer (or has been in a fox hole). If your father-in-law's third cousin had cancer, it's just not the same. You're not in the Club, be thankful you're not. It doesn't mean we can't talk about it, but please don't say you understand; you don't, not fully. Having an immediate family member or close friend with cancer is close experience.

Can you hear me now?

If you're not familiar with Star Trek, maybe you won't get this reference. If you are a fan, forget about all the other details of the episode. The situation is pretty easy to explain, at least as it relates to this. Kirk is trapped in an inter-dimensional rift, a strange place. He's "out of phase" with the rest of his crew, and can't communicate effectively (or really at all) with them. Try as they might, they can not communicate, nor can they always see him, know what he's up to. I'm sure somewhere on the ship someone is complaining about where their third glass of wine is. All while Kirk is lost in space, with only 3 hours of oxygen left, by the way.

I have felt sometimes that I am caught in my own inter-dimensional rift, unable to effectively communicate with others who are not also caught there.

I sometimes hear the same thing from two different people, but when one says it, it has more instant credence. What's the difference? Shared experience. Having participated in cancer support group, or just talking to other cancer patients, I found an instant connection. It's somehow easier to share "cancer stories" with them, because the frame of reference is there. You don't have to paint the picture of fear, uncertainty, feeling of loss of control, unpleasant medical procedures, staring Death in the face; they already get it. Same thing goes for anyone else who's been through a real harrowing, life-threatening experience. Somehow we can connect more easily. It's good for both of you.

I have found that some others have the gift of bridging the gap. What qualities do they have? Good communication, understanding, past experience with the same situation, and empathy. If not first-hand empathy, similar empathy. We've all had tough (or good) times, and some people are good at relating them, joining to you at the common level.

As a cancer patient, I've found myself in my own Tholian Web. Not just as it relates to communication, but to day-to-day living. Luckily, I have some people in my life like Spock. They refuse to give up or leave me behind. In some fashion they want you back to normal, and while you can't be, you can get out of the inter-dimensional rift and re-join them, even if you're changed, your priorities re-figured. You want to be back there, and they want you there, too, thank God for that, and for them.

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