Some of you who are expats may have seen a post over the weekend by one of the most well-known and prolific expat bloggers Kirsty Rice – who has just discovered she has breast cancer. Her blog and her Facebook page are filled with supportive messages and thoughts – she has been blogging for a long time, has a huge following and is generally very well liked. It is always shocking when news like this comes out of the blue and our instant reaction, as humans, is usually to convey our sympathy. It’s a horrible sutuation – Kirsty was about to fly home to Qatar from Australia when she found out the news, and along with all her expat followers, I wish her all the best and will be following her progress with huge hope that everything will turn out well.
But I think the outpouring of support is more than just the natural sympathy we have for another human being. Although in a way we all feel we “know” Kirsty (I myself have been following her on and off for some years and have linked to some of her posts both on this blog and in my book), few of those people who have commented on her site actually DO know her. Or at least, have ever met her.
I suspect that some of the feelings that people are dealing with at the moment is that terror that is at the edge of everyone’s minds: this is something that could happen to me. And for an expat, dealing with something like breast cancer, or really any kind of serious illness, is something that we sometimes find very hard to contemplate. It’s bad enough for something like this to happen when you are in your home environment, surrounded by family and close friends and dealing with a familiar health service. But for it to happen away from all those things, that is something most of us don’t want to have to think about. And add things like children to the mix (who will look after them? What happens if I have to fly home for treatment?) and you are dealing with what is potentially a very difficult situation.
Of course Kirsty isn’t the only expat to have been hit by the horridness that is cancer but because she has what must be one of the largest expat blogger followings in the world, I suspect she is going to be the one that the most people will hear about. But right now, all around the world, I can guarantee that there are hundreds if not thousands of men and women, far from home, trying to cope with an equally horrid situation I remember one friend who had just arrived in St Lucia when she discovered her own lump in her breast. She had two very small children and the family had just arrived to help her husband’s father with his business. Their whole venture had to be temporarily abandoned while the family flew home so she could be treated. The way she dealt with this turn of events was – on the outside at least – quite remarkable. The good news is that she was treated successfully and the whole family was, eventually, able to move back to the Caribbean to carry on with their plans.
There are of course other horrible sutuations that we find even harder to contemplate – something awful happening to our children; getting caught up in a life-threatening event like a terrorist attack or a natural disaster; the loss of a loved one back home. These are all realities of life and things that either don’t go away or, in some cases (eg terrorist attack) are even more likely to happen to expats. So how do you deal with your worries about these issues?
I think it’s healthy to acknowledge your thoughts, and to think about how you would cope. But there is no point in over-thinking it. Just like most difficult and tragic events in life, wherever you are in the world, it is actually very hard to know how you would deal with something until it happens. There are of course some practical things you can do to help lessen the chances of some of these things happening (stay safe; stay healthy; have your regular check-ups; know where your local hospitals are etc), but cancer can hit anyone at anytime – I am sure we all know someone or more than one person who has been affected so there is always that chance that it could be you.
So as an expat, be aware of the possibility of “the worst” happening when you are a long way from home, but don’t dwell on it. Know that even if you are relatively new somewhere and have yet to build up a proper support network, humans are naturally empathatic creatures and I am sure that without a doubt the local expat community will pull together to help you out. We are all in the same situation and I know that I would go out of my way to help anyone who needed it living as we do so far from our normal support. I have seen this happen time after time, when my own father fell seriously ill in Lagos, when a newly-arrived single mother with two young children was injured in the Marriott bombing in Islamabad. Support will appear, sometimes from the areas you would expect it to, sometimes from the most unlikeliest of areas, but you will not be alone.
And if all else fails, come on here or other expat blogs, forums, and sites and ask for help. We’re a nice group and I wouldn’t ever want to think anyone was struggling alone. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?