Everyone Needs A Short Version of Their Story

~Liz Hiles

Remember when you were growing up and your parents told you, “The world doesn’t revolve around you, ya’ know?!” Well, they’re mostly right. 

I mean, when you’re facing a life-threatening diagnosis, such as cancer, then the world should revolve around you. At least a little bit!

However, in the bigger picture of what’s happening in the world, it really doesn’t. 

Scientifically, it revolves around the sun. In terms of human events, one individual is seldomly singled out on a large scale to where the entire world has all eyes on them for an extended period of time. 

When you’re diagnosed with something like cancer, it definitely seems like your entire world is revolving around your diagnosis and treatments and that all others should be your various satellites and moons. That’s what it seems like.

The reality is

However, in reality, life for everyone else is still marching to the same old tune. People are born, get married, and die. Countries are overthrown or invaded. Natural geologic and meteorologic events continue to take place. The butterfly effect may be real, but the effects are not as noticeable as our imaginations might have us believe. 

Yes, there are going to be people in your life who want or need to know every single thing about your entire cancer adventure. Those people typically should be people who you’ve had your established relationships with. 

You may not enjoy sharing your story. That’s okay. However, there are people who should know it in case something happens to you. 

Liz prepared to share her story on a panel at GVCC20.

However, you may want to share your story with others and use your story to advocate for your healthcare community. In which case, you will need several versions of your story that you can tell within different time limits. You may also want to have a summary of it. These should be clear, concise accounts of what happened in chronological order. 

You can also write a book, do videos, or even multiple articles that share all or part of your story. That’s when you get to all the nitty-gritty details. Spill all the beans on your experiences. 

The critical need

The question remains, What do you do when you’re dealing with basic introductions and social and casual inquiries on your well-being?

Answer? You need a short version of your story! Every single person who has a diagnosis needs an ultra-short – 3 to 5 sentence – version of their story. 

When do you use this? Most of the time!

The friend or acquaintance at your high school or college reunion does not need nor want your entire life story or your entire medical history! Neither does the waitress at your local diner, the cashier at your favorite grocery store, or the postal worker who delivers your mail. Honestly, they probably don’t even really care. They have their own dramas and traumas that they’re dealing with and are focused on those. 

Not everyone should know everything

Also, most people on the planet should not have full access to you or your medical history anyway! Protect yourself and your identity. Protect the sanctity of whatever challenges you have faced, by keeping some of it to yourself…especially if no one has asked you to share it! 

When you attend a support meeting or a program for your diagnosis community, this short version is perfect! Chances are there is a fairly large group of people and staff are giving people an opportunity to introduce themselves so that people feel comfortable sharing. Groups are slated for a specific amount of time so that the staff can get back to their work or personal lives. The short version of your story allows you to share without taking up too much time, thus, allowing others the space to introduce themselves. 

The added benefit is that if everyone shares their short version, then you can actually talk about other issues! Once introductions are out of the way, you can discuss the hard stuff that muggles, those not a part of your medical community, just don’t get no matter how much they try to be understanding and empathetic. 

The elevator speech

This short version, sometimes referred to as your elevator speech, should be short, concise, and have meaning. You should be able to give it in your sleep. When you are just connecting with others, it should be personal. However, in an advocacy space, it should be action-driven. It should encourage others to want to learn more about your experience. 

When talking with legislators who have limited time, you cannot go into a long tirade about every intimate detail of your healthcare experience. Therefore, the short version is a great summary to start with, and then state your needs as a patient as it relates to policy changes that are needed. 

Know your audience

You may even have a few short versions of your experience and that’s okay. If you have more than one version, it means that you know your audience and you use the version that is most suitable for the situation.

Think about all the shyt you’ve been through. 

Just think about it for a minute.

Gather your thoughts and come up with your 3-5 sentence version of all of it. You may need to write it down, in the beginning, to keep yourself on track and give yourself time to memorize the short version. (You often don’t need to memorize the long version because you’ve lived it!) 

Keep that short version handy at all times. If you’re unsure whether to give a long or short version, always give the short version first! If people want to know more, they will ask you!

Put it into practice

SO, what’s your short version? Introduce yourself in the comments below. I’ll go first.

Hi, I’m Liz and I’m a bladder cancer survivor and a urostomate. I was diagnosed with stage 3b bladder cancer in August 2016. Then, I had a radical cystectomy followed by MVAC chemotherapy. I live life with a urostomy, which is a medical appliance that collects urine since I don’t have a bladder anymore. I’ve been advocating since my youth for various causes and cancer just gave me more to advocate for. 

Your turn! Enter below!

About The Poster

2 Responses

  1. Hi! I’m Christian. I was cruising along in life when a Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnosis in 2017 stopped me in my tracks. This event gave me perspective into the struggles and challenges thousands of people have when receiving a cancer diagnosis.

  2. Hi, I am Kamal. I was living a full and really busy life when I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2019. As of now, I am still living a full and very busy life with a brand new appreciation for myself, other people, and all the beautiful universe around us.

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