What Not to Say to THIS Cancer Patient

Since I’ve begun telling people about my diagnosis, I’ve noticed that people- with the best of intentions of course- can be REALLY stupid. Others can be insensitive. Others can say things that honestly just annoy me but would probably not bother anyone else (hey, I’m entitled!). I am the first one to admit that if the shoe was on the other foot, I’d have NO idea what to say and would probably blunder through something awful. So, if you have said any one of the following offending statements, no worries. I know you didn’t mean to jar my nerves. I’m just giving you a heads-up now before my mood takes a turn and I snap at you. I really don’t want to snap at anyone.

I also recognize that I set a lot of the tone and I say some of these things in order to calm you all down. That’s my mistake. When I was first diagnosed, I focused so much on not worrying anyone else. This is pretty silly and has backfired. I now don’t think a lot of people get the seriousness of my condition.

Things that are stupid:

My *random family member* died of *random cancer*. (Really? Is it hereditary?)

Oh, Hodgkin’s is no big deal. You’ll be fine. You got me worried for nothing! (Tell that to the 15%ish percent of people who don’t make it.)

It’s not the cancer that kills, it’s the chemo. (There are no words.)

I feel so crappy, I have a cold/headache/sore throat/etc. (I don’t want to be that person but seriously? Do not complain to me.)

At least they caught it early. (Actually, they didn’t catch it early. I thought it was early at the beginning but have stopped saying that since it is clearly the opposite of getting caught early. Still, I have had SO MANY people tell me this after I tell them about my diagnosis, and none have ANY idea of how early it was caught.)

This will be a chance to stop some bad habits. (Yes, I was rolling around in toxic sludge before my diagnosis.)

Things that are insensitive:

What is your prognosis? (Do not ask this as soon as I tell you. Seriously.)

Isn’t Stage IV terminal? (Don’t you have Google? Also, if it was, why the hell would you ask that and remind me?)

I know how you feel. (No, you don’t. Unless you were also diagnosed with cancer, you don’t. And honestly, unless you were diagnosed with cancer as a young person, you don’t understand.)

My *insert deity here that I do not believe in* will protect you. (My religious beliefs are fairly simple and well known- I’m a Jewish agnostic. I do not appreciate how much “Jesus” has gotten thrown in my face. In fact, there are several people who I have still not told because I don’t want to deal with that. I don’t mind if you tell me that you’re praying for me because, you know, the more good vibes the better, but I don’t appreciate any more overtly religious overtones.)

Things about the chrome dome:

Your hair will grow back, mine won’t. (My oncologist is guilty of this. He’s a balding man in his late 50s. I’m a girl in my early 20s. I want to pop him in the face every time he says it, as if there’s any equivalence.)

You won’t have any more bad hair days! Think of how much time it will save in the morning! (Well how about we shave your head too?)

Your hair will grow back thicker and curlier! (On some people. On others, it grows back thinner and limp and brittle. You don’t know.)

Are you going to wear all kinds of crazy wigs? (Because if I don’t look sick and ugly enough, let’s draw more attention to myself with a pink wig. My wig will be a different color and style than my hair is now, but I want it to look natural. That’s the point.)

Things you can’t promise:

You’ll be fine. (Are you a psychic? My doctor? G-d? Statistically, yes, my chances are good. But you don’t know that.)

Anything I can do to help, just ask. (Don’t say this if you don’t mean it. And if you say “anything”, you better mean anything. Also, this statement is completely unhelpful. Offer something specific- rides, cooking food, etc. Don’t put another thing on me- I have enough on my plate.)

—————————————-

That was a whole lot of negativity for one post. Here are some things that you CAN say:

– Stories of hope. I have no problem hearing about your friends and family who have had lymphoma, beat it, and are doing great now. That’s helpful.

-Real, honest, specific offers for help.

-Sympathy, not pity.

-I love you. This can never be said enough.

 

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13 comments on “What Not to Say to THIS Cancer Patient
  1. Sue says:

    This is a great post. It’s amazing to be able to communicate what helps you and hurts you. Not everyone will get it, but hopefully we’ll all try to be less idiotic.

    And, I do love you!

  2. Gayle says:

    How about that you are a fantastic writer? Your posts are very interesting and flow so well. Way to be super-articulate, honest, and find a way to insert humor into a serious post.

  3. Miranda says:

    I agree with Gayle, all of your posts, and this one in particular, have been really well written! You really are a great writer! I hope knowing that can be one of the things you can remember and can give you strength when things get tough.

  4. Dad says:

    Al,

    Cancer or no, some things never change!

    You’re articulate as ever.
    You speak your mind.

    I’m always thinking of you and
    I love you!

    Dad

  5. amy says:

    allie,

    i just wanted to tell you that i love you and even though we can’t talk everyday, i am thinking about you so much of every day.

  6. Lbw says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Stories of hope got me through.
    Was told that this was my wake up call and a chance to transform. What was it that I was doing that was so shitty? Child rapist serial killers don’t get cancer. I didn’t know the hospital had psychs so I found a Bhuddist nun as I thought I liked the Bhuddist philosophy, the nun told me I got cancer cos I was a little but bad in this life or my last life or the one before that, but not too bad because I had a curable cancer- but bad enough for it to be stage 4 and for me to lose my fertility. She also taught me some weird star wars type meditation… Anyway yeah, people say the darnest things.

  7. Molly says:

    Hi Allie,
    I wanted to thank you for this post. You put into words things that many cancer patients thing, but never share. My brother is also in treatment for Stage 4 Hodgkin’s and I wanted to let you know that your post will make me think before I speak so that I don’t irritate or upset him by saying something stupid.

    I wish you the best in your treatment and will be watching your posts from time to time.

    For the record, those stories of hope are helpful to the family members too. It helps us stay positive for our family members who are fighting this horrible disease.

  8. Monique says:

    Hey Allie,
    I wanted to come to your place and do some cleaning before I became suddenly ill. the offer is still open though, when I am Fully Well. I will show up with vinegar and a vengeance. Just you let me know when you want me there.
    I could also bring Sophy if she’s feeling alive enough. We are a super cleaning team.
    That’s right. I used to be a maid. I will _show_ that dirt.
    <3Monique

  9. Kayla says:

    I am newly diagnosed, found your blog through the Lymphoma forums. I will be starting treatment at the beginning of April and I just wanted to say I completely agree, on all accounts. I have heard some of the DUMBEST, most insensitive things since I’ve been diagnosed.

    All the best to you!

  10. Wendy says:

    Thank you for this blog. My sister in law is getting these same comments and I am looking for a humorous greeting card that makes fun of some of the things people say. Any ideas?

    A few more things that people say to her that make her crazy
    -you look good
    -you can never have a negative thought
    -bummer
    -you must have a positive attitude
    -did you eat bologna when you were a child?

  11. Anonymous says:

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    Extremely useful info specifically the closing phase 🙂 I care for such info a lot.

    I was looking for this particular information for a very lengthy time.
    Thank you and best of luck.

  12. […] would send my anxiety through the roof. Not to toot my own blog, but I wrote What Not to Say to THIS Cancer Patient | Allie E. Morse when I was in the early stages of treatment. It's much more aggressive than I ever am, but I found […]

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