I vaguely remember when The Office first appeared on our screens. It was in the summer of 2001. I was working at a private language school in Wimbledon at the time. It had a partner school in Perth, Australia which meant that some of the teachers I was working with came from Australia. I remember befriending one of them called Louisa. It was her first time in London and she was loving every minute of it. When she first arrived, the school hooked her up with some other Aussies who were also living in Wimbledon. Unfortunately for Louisa, these Aussies all happened to be hard drinking males with whom she had little in common.
A similar thing happened to a friend of mine who is French.
“Oh you must come and meet Pierre!” chimed one of her colleagues. “He’s French too. You’re bound to get along.” Well… they didn’t.
This not only happens if you share the same nationality but also if you share the same life threatening disease too. Just because you have cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you are bound to get on with anyone else who has cancer. Cancer affects everyone. This means that everyone has their own different take on it.
One person might avoid all sugar, practise yoga everyday and live off a mixture of apricot kernals and kale juice. Another patient might be boozing every night, eating cake and be out partying. Both approaches are fine but these two people probably wouldn’t get on should they ever meet.
What someone with cancer needs is space. Space to find their own path to come to some kind of acceptance of the disease that they have. The issue of space is touched upon slightly in The Office.
The Office, in case you didn’t know, is a mockumentary about life in a typical British office. It was released without much fanfare, but its popularity grew mainly through word of mouth. The main lead is the office manager, David Brent. He’s played brilliantly by Ricky Gervais. Brent, although he’s the manager, tries to be “one of the lads”. The scenes where he tries to crack jokes and integrate with his staff are so cringe worthy that I can only view them from behind a cushion.
Brent’s number two is Gareth Keenan, again acted brilliantly by Mackenzie Crook. Gareth tries to throw his weight around the office but is often thwarted by every man Tim Canterbury, played by Martin Freeman. It’s the relationship between Gareth and Tim that I most identify with. In one of my favourite episodes, Tim gets so annoyed by Gareth, he builds a wall of A4 file boxes between his and Gareth’s desk because he can’t bear the thought of looking at him for seven hours everyday. I’m sure most people who have worked in an office environment can identify with Tim’s frustration.
I can safely say that I have never felt that way about people at work, I certainly have felt a little bit like that when I meet some people who have cancer. Like Tim, we need space to… well… get on with it. We don’t need to be told what we must or mustn’t do. Everyone is different and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else.
When someone says to me “Oh you must meet so and so. They’ve been recently diagnosed with…” My first reaction is to back off. Being diagnosed is horrific. The last thing that person needs is me to come swaggering in and telling them what to do. All that I or anyone else can do is listen. That’s all that needs doing. A bit of listening and a lot of tea or coffee making. By listening you are giving that person time and space to come to terms with what has happened. Once that person has come to terms with the situation, then, step by step, you can plan what to do next.
It turned out good for Tim at the end of The Office. He hung on in there and ended up with the girl of his dreams. The same could be true if you have cancer. If you hang on in there and keep on listening, you’ll find yourself empowered to make the right choices for you. No one but YOU.