So, this post; it's a good place to start. Having someone you know and/or love receive a cancer diagnosis is, well...it's just a sad reality that all of us will know at least one person with cancer in our lifetime. I'm bet you are trying to figure out how to not sound like a complete tool when talking to your cancer contemporary. With the help of some friends, I put together a little list of 10 things you probably shouldn't say...
one || "I'm sure everything is fine."
You are?! Great! So, I shouldn't go to the doctor/have scans/do chemo then? If anyone were "sure" everything is fine, we wouldn't be in this situation. Cancer patients accept a harsh reality the moment they hear the words "you have cancer" and that reality is that everything may not be fine. Not defeatist or negative, simply true.
Something you may not have considered is that this statement can come of a bit condescending and belittling of our situation. If "everything is fine" then why do I feel so terrified and sick?
two || "But are you going to loose your hair? Everywhere?"
I don't know why this one in particular bugs us, but it does. Sure, losing our hair can absolutely be traumatic and emotional! HOWEVER, this is not high on the priority list for us.
three || "My cousin's, friend's, nephew's, aunt had that same kind of cancer! They died."
Sweeeeeeet. You are turning the awkward tables on us with this one. How are we supposed to respond?! Sorry for your loss? Oh shit, hope I don't die too.
Try putting yourself in the cancer patients' shoes. Is this something you would want to hear?
four || "Have you tried drinking more water? or juicing? or eating kale? I heard that gets rid of cancer..."
So, I should skip the whole surgery/chemo/radiation bit then?
No. Surgery, chemo and radiation has proven to leave people cancer free! Kale has not. Trust that our doctors are studying our specific type of cancer and know the most effective course of action to treat it.
five || "Do they think you're going to make it?"
Ok. This is a tough one. I know that family members and loved ones, truly do need this information. Most people know to stay away from Dr. Google with things like cancer and if they don't hear your doctors for themselves, how else are the going to know? Maybe asking this question a different way will sting less for everyone. "What is the plan and how effective is this plan?"
If you are a just an acquaintance, do not ask this question.
six || "We are only given what we can handle."
Well, we beg to freaking differ!
seven || "Did you tan/smoke/eat poorly/etc.?"
Lets say the answer is yes. Use me as an example, lets say I laid in a tanning bed everyday until the day I learned I had stage 3 melanoma. Then what? Are you asking this question to make yourself feel less scared about ever having cancer yourself since you don't do those things? Are you asking to explain why I have cancer? Either way, that doesn't change the patients' reality and it certainly isn't helpful.
eight || "Awww, how did you get cancer? You're just so young..."
"Young people" have cancer too! Most of the time we have no idea why or how it happened, it just did. Let's talk about something else.
nine || "Are you positive you really have cancer?"
You've been PUNKED!
Pretty sure the countless oncologists, pathologists and radiologists are all on the same page with this one.
ten || THAT FACE
Obviously this isn't something you say, but rather something you do. "The look" We all know it and we've all given it. The "awww you poor thing i feel so sorry for you it's just so sad" look. Skip it.
Now that you feel really bad because you've said at least 17 of the 10 things on that list, lets move on to some things you could try saying instead. [Really. Don't feel bad! I'm a cancer survivor myself and I've caught myself saying these things too! They are natural thoughts. AND the fact that you are fumbling over your words and saying the "wrong" things means that you care enough to try. We really love you for that.]
"This really sucks!"
Preach! Cancer sucks. Chemo sucks. Radiation sucks. Surgery sucks. Being bald sucks. It's one big suck fest! Chances are you'll get a smirk ;) Sometimes just letting us know that you recognize how shitty things can be is a huge motivator.
"How can I help?"
But you can't stop there! Most patients will respond with "everything is ok right now, but thank you for offering." Just help. Try something. Anything. Do you think we don't feel like driving ourselves to the appointment we have on Monday at 10am? Show up at 9 and tell us to get in the car. Have we mentioned that we don't feel like cooking? Pop over around dinner time with some grub! Even if your idea is a total fail, try! We love and recognize the supportive gestures.
"You look beautiful!"
You can never go wrong with this one. Except maybe try "handsome" or "great" if your cancer friend is a dude.
"I don't know what to say."
This is fine! We know it's awkward as hell! Try telling people "I have cancer." We get it. This is 100x better than saying nothing at all. Promise.
"Have you watched the show 'xyz'??! NETFLIX BINGER!"
We are still us. Talk to us like you normally would, about the things you normally would! We still want to hear about your work drama or your kid who smears poop on the wall. I still want you to bring over ice cream and nail polish when you're going through a breakup. We get sick of cancer and just want things to be normal.