There’s a saying in the special needs community that says, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism. ” (And I do!) This describes the fact that there is a wide range of how autism can vary from person to person, and I believe the same can be said about cancer. I was thinking recently about how many different cancers there are, and also about cancer patients, with some receiving a great deal of support, while others do not. At the same time I was thinking about the phrase, “walk a mile in my shoes,” from the perspective that many cancer patients feel that friends and family cannot fully understand the experience. Not that the friends and family are judging or being mean-spirited, but rather they simply do not understand what it feels like to walk the cancer path and do not know how to provide support. This is when I decided the shoe is a perfect metaphor for cancer.

What size shoe are you wearing under the umbrella?

Cancer, a small word, but really it’s a big unbrella under which there are so many different kinds of shoes. There are the bigger shoes, that one one may think of as the more common cancers, and then there are the smaller ones that may be less common. Both the big and the small may appear to be a different size, but they are both under the umbrella and impact the wearer. The umbrella is so big that even if you are familiar with one shoe, others may not fit, but let’s face it, that’s a good thing.

What is the style of your shoe?

Just as each cancer is different, each person experiences it differently, and has a different support system. There are the high-heeled patients, who may receive a little lift, but largely teeter along through the cancer experience on their own. Then on the other end of the spectrum, there are the boot wearing patients, with support that surrounds them. In the middle is the walking shoe patients, with a solid foundation of support, but not an overwhelming amount.

The cancer experience can be a long one, and as with shoes, the amount of support the patient receives will vary over time. The different styles will likely get swapped in and out during the marathon known as treatment. If you are a friend or family member of a cancer patient, I encourage you to be the walking shoe – sturdy and dependable!

Even among the walking shoe there are many styles, which to me says that people with the same type of cancer and solid support, will have their own experience. The beauty of us humans is our individuality, and while we may have similarities, there will still be an individual stlye to the cancer experience.

To the cancer patient I say, embrace your style, and change your shoes if needed. Ask for, or allow support, but place healthy boundaries around times that you may need for solitude or rest, as you kick off your shoes. If your friends and family aren’t able to provide the support that you need to move forward, I’m here for you. I provide support and resources in person in Minnesota, or virtually. Although the size and style of our shoes may be different, I have walked in the marathon and I get it.

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