“[If you hear a] story about how eating sausage leads to anal cancer, you will be skeptical, because it has never happened to anyone you know, and sausage, after all, is delicious.”
― David McRaney, You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself
There are entire books and blogs devoted to what to say and what not to say when someone has cancer. Apparently no one is reading them because the reports of well meaning and awkward remarks just keep on coming.
“I don’t think you’re dying,” I said. “I think you’ve just got a touch of cancer.” –John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Several times I had conversations starting with: “Oh, it’s just breast cancer … at least it’s not in your liver … it could be worse, you have the good cancer.” Once again I felt a tad guilty that I was not making the most of my cancer gift. It was extremely tempting to snap back with, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that, I sure feel better now.” I never knew until I had breast cancer that it was the good one to get.
Before you know it, everyone has a story about cancer.
It’s not unusual to be told “I know exactly how you feel.” This is nearly always followed by numerous stories of friends, family members, cousin-of -the –person- at -the market, daughter- of-my- mechanic’s- roommate’s- sister who supposedly have the same cancer you do and are still around after 15 years. Occasionally a more dour tale is told of my -brother’s- boss’s- wife’s -best friend who died a terrible death. My all time favorite is: “I understand what you’re going through, my dog had cancer.”
“ You don’t look sick – you look so much better than I thought you would.”
“ I can relate – I’m having a horrible time getting rid of this flu.”
“You’re so lucky, you’ll never have another period.” This said to a young woman who would never be able to conceive a child after a complete hysterectomy.
“I know just how you feel.” This statement preceding the person breaking into an hysterical crying jag while you stand by wondering if you should comfort them or just run in the opposite direction as fast as you can.
“You’ll be fine.” A classic remark that infuriated me every time I heard it. How the hell did anyone know that? In retrospect, it was probably related to my diagnosis of breast cancer, aka “the good cancer.”
And now that the holiday season is fast approaching, we are faced with the constant temptation of sugar, fat, and alcohol. Is it important to eat a healthy diet and not drink too much? This is an obvious fact. However, there is still little conclusive evidence that links diet to the cause of cancer making us no different than anyone else who needs to pay attention to what we put in our mouths and pour down our throats. Mostly it’s just annoying when someone tells you what you should do … I don’t really like that … who does?
So, I hope you enjoy yourself on your own terms as an adult. We can make choices, we’re not children, we’re cancer survivors!
Excerpt from my book, Surviving the Storm: Helping Cancer Survivors Tell Their Stories