So many friends have asked me about what is the right, or wrong, thing to say to someone with cancer. I don’t think there is necessarily a right thing – although I try and live by the theory that it is better to admit that I have no idea what to say rather than say something that might hurt someone. That being said, I still think something/anything should be said rather than nothing at all!
But there are many wrong things that you can say!
However, I am very aware that a lot of these comments come from embarrassment, fear of getting it wrong, wanting to offer comfort, but unfortunately some definitely come from ignorance!
Here is a few of the things said to me, and other cancer patients who I have had contact with:
“I can empathise with you as my Mum had breast cancer”. At this point I’m thinking arh that’s nice, and I’m sorry to hear that, but then “oh but she is terminal now as she has a secondary brain tumour” – er not really what I wanted to hear a day or two after my diagnosis.
Several people have told me the story “My mum/my best friend/ my aunt survived after having breast cancer 3 times” – again, not really what you want to hear when starting treatment for the first time!
“Will you survive?” Erm, not sure how you answer this one so my response was simply “I bloody hope so”. This is a weird one because I think most of us would like to ask this question when we hear of someone with a cancer diagnosis but social etiquette means we don’t – but it still totally took me aback!
Another strange one is “Your positive attitude got you through this”. Now I really do appreciate these sentiments, and I absolutely know they come from a good place, however I feel it somehow diminishes the ‘struggle’ people who haven’t survived have gone through. I’m sure they all started out with positive attitudes but it didn’t help them. I feel ‘lucky’ to be alive and doing well – but then I feel chuffing ‘unlucky’ to have had to go through this in this first place.
Other people’s experiences –
“It is much worse for your husband watching you go through the treatment” – now I know it is very difficult for loved ones to watch someone go through it, but I’m still fairly sure it is worse, much, much worse, for the person actually having the poison pumped in, the surgery, the intense burning of radiotherapy, and all the other little gems that cancer brings!
One lady told me “I had a ‘funny’ conversation yesterday at work – Have you been on a sabbatical? No I have had Cancer. Goodness you don’t look like you have had Cancer (Umm, not sure what I should look like). Then… I know just how you feel I had to have a long time off work but it wasn’t Cancer – Well I don’t really suppose you know how I feel then.”
“A lady who came into our cancer support group who’d had bladder cancer was telling another lady, who was recovering from a failed, delayed, breast reconstruction, that breast cancer was best because you can have your recon and then forget it!”
“On hair loss: your hair was very thin anyway!” – I couldn’t quite believe this one!
Not an inappropriate comment but I loved hearing this one, and it properly made me laugh – “I call what’s left of my breast ‘Robin’, because I love robins and I’m delighted to still have my red breast!”
This is just a very small snapshot but may just make us think a little before we jump in and say something potentially hurtful. I can laugh at, or brush off, most comments, but a few have left me speechless. However… I can say terribly inappropriate things but having a sense of humour (most of the time) has got me through this, so that is my excuse! It’s not just me though; family (especially Lauren) and friends have been known to shock a few people with ‘near the knuckle’ comments!
Big G with the news of my diagnosis, in front of the consultant and breast nurse – “I will remarry you know” – his way of saying don’t you dare die as I have always said I will haunt him if he finds someone else!
“Cancer take me now!” at a party with the most depressing music on – lots of people there I didn’t know, oops, well this is me!
When shopping with a friend “Oh no, I couldn’t possible pack the shopping as I have cancer!” – not sure the lady on the till knew what to say!
We tend to make light of things and I’m sure the stuff that we say to each other could really offend someone else. So this post can only ever be from my perspective – I find things funny that others may struggle with. On this point, I have noticed on Facebook that many people get annoyed/offended when someone shaves their head to raise money for cancer research, saying things like how can this help, how can they relate etc. I’m sure none of those people think they can understand how a cancer patient feels when losing their hair, and how the feelings are tied into this hideous disease, but I still think it’s a pretty brave thing to do… shame none of my friends wanted to come out in sympathy and shave their head!! Well apart from Charlie, the Labradoodle, who went a bit bald on his back at the same time as I lost my hair! And in all honesty, I think anything that raises money should be praised. A friend’s daughter is shaving her hair off after she completes her GCSE’s this summer – hats (or hair) off to her. Click here if you would like to donate – well done Hope. Sorry this bit was slightly off topic but then I do ramble a bit!