Not too long after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a meme appeared in my Facebook feed: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.”
I had seen this piece of wisdom before, but prior to my current struggle, it was essentially an abstraction. I’ve quickly come to understand it at a much more visceral level. You never really know what’s going on inside another person. So be kind, be compassionate.
Because you never really know.
A parable of sorts.
In between the date of receiving my cancer diagnosis and going broadly public with it, I shared a post on my Facebook page that listed which members of congress had voted to allow those on the Terrorist Watch List to buy assault rifles. Though headlined with the clear stance “Vote the nay-voters out,” the list itself was pure information: who voted for what. Immediately a Facebook “friend”—John, someone I barely remember from high school—responded with disagreement, and a lively thread largely populated by three additional friends who supported the initial stance ensued.
I’d shared the post the same morning I had my first appointment with the breast surgeon. There I learned that my cancer was Stage 3 with lymph node involvement, that I would need chemotherapy before surgery, that further tests were required to verify there was no metastasis. It was heavy news, not what we’d hoped for, and in that moment the second amendment quickly shifted pretty far down my list of concerns.
In the thread, John had moved fast to dismissive comments peppered with things like “STFU,” “you don’t have a clue,” and broad insults to all liberals. I have no patience for incivility of that sort on a good day, and the rapidly rising snark factor upset me. After a few more snipes and insults, I wrote the following on the thread:
“John, enough. I am not having the best day ever and this stuff is not helping. Thanks all.
And just a note for the future. I don’t post things on my page as an invitation for other people to shoot them down and argue with me. I post them because I believe in them. You don’t have to agree, but neither do you have to try to start an argument. My mind is unlikely to be changed, and I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.”
I pointed out I’d never once picked an argument deliberately on his page, although he frequently leapt at the chance to tell me how wrong I was in my posts. I asked him to stop, to show some restraint, as nicely as I could.
His response: “Spoken like a true liberal. Only post if you agree. No opposing arguments. Got it.”
And then he posted this (completely unsourced, terrible visual-quality) graphic, on causes of death in the USA:
The number three cause of death listed: cancer.
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
Since my own diagnosis, I’ve had a friend suffer from a serious spider bite. Another saw his sister diagnosed with cancer. Two friends have seen their beloved dogs through serious surgeries and biopsies. Another, an avid runner, is laid up for a few months after surgery to repair ruptured tendons and ligaments. Still another tragically lost her son to suicide. A former student faces abdominal surgery for ongoing health issues, a dear friend has heart surgery coming up soon. The aging parents of several friends have been in and out of the hospital multiple times, and one young woman lost her mother. Another girlfriend has feared loss of a job. A twenty-two-year-old model I’ve worked with continues his battle against leukemia. Two friends have disclosed serious depression. And countless people now face recovering from the damages of Hurricane Matthew.
And these are just some of the battles I do know about.
What of all the others? The man in front of me in line at the grocery store? The student sitting quietly in the back of the coffee shop? The neighbor loading a box into her car? The commenter on the online thread?
Since my own diagnosis, I have been the recipient of depths and breadths of kindness that I do not know how I will ever repay. Notes, cards, music, books, food, flowers, yoga, housecleaning, hugs, prayers, gatherings of support, so so many words of encouragement. I have been moved to tears by the incredible love and generosity of the people in this world.
That is the world I want to live in, to help create.
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.