I’m going to make this short and sweet. I don’t have all the answers, the whys and the hows, and that’s fine because the answers aren’t too important. In this instance, it’s not useful to disect why people say what they say. What’s important is to talk about the way it feels to be a cancer survivor in the world because sometimes it’s scary and knowing this happens to everybody might comfort you.
I hear versions of this story from patients and the BSW community every single day and the moral of the story is always the same.
People say stupid things to cancer survivors.
Yeah - you know they don’t mean it, but it’s no less off putting, right? And sometimes it’s so incredibly clumsy, insensitive, and hurtful, you just can’t lose the feeling that maybe they do mean it. They say things like:
“My aunt was diagnosed with the exact same thing you have and she died a few weeks later.”
“You look really good for someone with cancer!”
“Now that you’re done with treatment, you can get back to normal!”
“Are you sure you should be [fill in the blank with any activity they think you shouldn’t be doing] - you have cancer.”
“You should really go see my doctor for a second opinion. Your treatment doesn’t sound right.”
“You need to fight because you’re going to beat this!”
“When I went through cancer treatment I ran a marathon and never missed a day of work and was the head of the PTA!”
“There are so many good treatments for cancer now, you’ll be fine.”
“I told you all those unhealthy habits would catch up to you.”
“Sob sob sob sob sob sob sob.” [You can’t understand what they’re saying because your cancer has upset them so much.]
“Look at cancer as a gift.”
Words are powerful, aren’t they?
Especially the wrong words. What is the cancer survivor to do with such silliness?
I personally don’t know what to do with it. After all, how can I prescribe a reaction to these unpredictable, surprising moments imposed upon you in the most tender days of your existence?
I will offer an observation - it sure isn’t about them and their silly ideas.
It’s about you. So if you can, tell them what you’re thinking and feeling. They’ll be aghast, they’ll be hurt, they might even feel foolish and realize their mistake. And that’s good and honest.
And of course, spend your time with the people who make you feel safe.
The people who fill you up, not empty you out. The people who always show up the right way. The people who don’t have to say a word because they just get it.
And if you’re having a day when you can’t find somebody like that, I’ll be here.