Dumb Things You Should Never Say to a Cancer Patient – #MyLeftBoob Chronicles

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“Does your cancer make me look stupid?” Yes. Yes it does.

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer (on Feb. 4th), I’ve heard some pretty dumb comments. Since being diagnosed with a “rare and aggressive” type (on Feb. 23) called Triple Negative Metaplastic Carcinoma only 1% of women get, they’ve gotten worse.

If you Google the words “What not to say to a cancer patient” you will find a seemingly endless amount of articles from the New York Times, Huffington Post, Dana Farber, Caring.com, Livestrong, and countless others. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Three days after surgery I wrote a blog post called, “Please Don’t Talk About Death, My Focus is On Life.” Even after undergoing two biopsies and lumpectomy surgery, the biggest battle I faced was the constant daily barrage of unwanted advice and negative comments from “well-meaning” people.

Here are some of the “best” worst remarks people have said to me.

“This is hard for everyone” or “This isn’t about just you.”

It’s not? My cancer is actually about you? Great. So then you’ll do the surgery, chemo, lose your hair, get nauseous and tired and face all of the fears for me? Awesome, thanks!

“I know EXACTLY how you feel. My mom/wife/uncle/neighbor/co-worker had it, but he/she died…..” (awkward pause).

No. You don’t know exactly how I feel. You are not a 45-year-old woman diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer only 1% of women get. You don’t have 3 kids you have to tell this to and a husband who is trying his best to be calm and strong for you but is scared on the inside because his mom died of cancer when she was only 55. You don’t know exactly how I feel because you are not me.

You may mean well, but right now I only want to hear survivor stories and information that makes me feel like there’s hope.

“I think God was trying to get your attention,” “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” “God is in control,” or any other religious clichés.

First, since when is discussing religion with people you barely know socially acceptable? Second, if God wants my attention, all He has to do is paint a rainbow or a sunset in the sky. I didn’t need to get cancer to see God in the world around me and in the smiles on my children’s faces. 

“You should get a henna tattoo! You will totally rock the ‘bald is beautiful’ look.”‘

Thanks, but no thanks. If I wanted to be different and rock the henna tattoo look I would have chosen to shave my head before I had cancer. This is not a political or religious choice. Telling a cancer patient what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do, eat, wear, get treated, etc. is not your place. We know you mean well but it is just another painful reminder of what we are dealing with every moment of every day.

“At least it’s only Stage 1. You’re so lucky.”

Nobody who has to face the possibility of death sooner than expected is “lucky.” Nobody who has to undergo surgery, be pumped full of toxic poisons to kill cancer cells for months and months is “lucky.” Nobody who has to lose all of their hair and worry for years if the cancer will come back is “lucky.”

“You should really eat kelp/almonds/sour fruit. You should really bathe in oatmeal.  You should rub coconut oil on your boob and eat a spoonful a day. You should start juicing.  I heard that all of these things have magical cancer killing powers.”

Don’t tell a cancer patient that their treatment isn’t good enough, your way is better, or chemotherapy is just a big conspiracy between the government and pharmaceutical companies. Respect my wishes of how and where I will be treated and don’t get mad if I disagree with you. It’s my body and my choice. I choose to listen to my doctor who has had decades of experience treating cancer.

“You never know, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.”

Well gee, that’s comforting….and so could you.

“At least you can get perky new boobs….for free!” or “Now you can get DD’s like Pamela Anderson!”

Actually no, and having to go through what we have to just to get free perky big boobs is so completely superficial.

“At least you’ll save money on shampoo and hair care products!”

A few cents per week to put towards the thousands of dollars worth of doctor and hospital bills? Yay! Why didn’t I think of that?!

“Are you really scared? Do you think you’re going to beat it? What does your gut tell you? Do you think about it ALL the time?”

These questions are not welcome or helpful. Yes, I do think about it a lot but I also am trying my hardest to focus on the positive: Caught early at Stage1, I’m strong and healthy, and there is no lymph node involvement.

And finally, for the love of Cheese-Its, do not make that “Aw, you poor thing” pouty face.

Yes, I have cancer and I am learning to accept it as well. I don’t need your pity so please don’t look at me like I’m that one-eyed, three-legged, emaciated dog on the Animal Humane Society commercial.

So now that you know what not to say, what can you do to support a cancer patient in their battle?

  1. Be there.
    • Don’t disappear. Yes it is hard for you but it is hard for us too. We are the ones living it.
  2. Be positive.
    • Even if you are scared, telling your loved one with cancer is not helpful and brings us down. If you “can’t handle it” or “don’t know what to say” then go to a therapist. There are lots of great resources out there for support.
  3. Be supportive and listen to their story.
    • Don’t wait until they are done talking so you can  tell them “your” cancer story. If you don’t know what to say don’t say anything.  Just listen.

Still not sure about saying the right thing? Check out this great article a friend shared about the “Ring Theory.” Click here.

Will you join my fight? Click here to support my breast cancer treatment and share if you know someone whose life has been touched by cancer.

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