This blog post actually started out as a joke between mom and I about a week or two back… She walked into my room rather annoyed by what someone had said to her. To be honest I cannot remember the exact conversation that transpired, but it irritated mom at the callous manner in which this woman spoke. I took it as a joke and laughed it off reminding mom that most people don’t have a filter today and we cannot take for granted that people know how to speak when it comes to a cancer patient. In a huff, she suggested that perhaps I should to a post on the common things that cancer patients do not wish to hear…
I personally would have never thought about this, but just try searching ‘things you should never say to a cancer patient’ on Google or YouTube and you will be amazed at how much comes up. My first thought when I actually saw the search results, ‘are things so bad that we as humanity need a guide line about what’s appropriate and what is not’… But after actually reading and watching some of the video’s – it becomes pretty evident that most cancer patients share a lot of common concerns.
That being said, this post is not there to offend anyone or make anyone feel bad, it’s just here to provide some…insight, insight into the mind of a cancer patient. In a way, I suppose we have all done or said something along these lines. However, I think it is important to know that a lot of emphasis is placed on the intention behind what you’re saying, that counts the most… no two cancer patients are the same and not everyone will interpret what you say in the same manner… what you say to one cancer patient could make them feel so good, however you could say the exact same thing to another cancer patient and completely piss them off.
So here is our list…
- When someone you know chooses to share with you that they or their loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, do not ask if she has had her breast removed. Firstly, it’s intrusive and secondly highly inappropriate. Should the person want to tell you they have had a mastectomy or lumpectomy – believe me, they will tell you. I’ve personally been asked this about mom, and it blew my mind at how nonchalantly this was asked…and that too by a fellow woman, where was the compassion?!
- In an effort to relate to a cancer patient do not share stories where you speak of your uncle’s cousin’s sister having had breast cancer and died from it… No, that is not helpful. I realise that this is done with the intention of implying that we understand what the patient is going through, but the truth is we actually don’t. Stories of death are not encouragement. I would not readily share with a cancer patient that I lost my grandmother to cancer, but if I do, I remember my grandmothers words which she often asked me to relay to my mother …”do not compare yourself to me.” This just attributes to the fact that no two cancer patients are the same…therefore do not compare.
- “It’s Just Hair”- Now this is a bit of a weird one given that I constantly tell my mother that “it’s just hair” followed by “it will grow back.” However the differentiating factor… it is one thing hearing this from a loved one/close friend – it is completely different to hear it from someone you don’t even know from a bar of soap. The thing is, we don’t care if my mother is bald as an eagle; she is still beautiful to us. Seeing her without her wig or beanie is normal for us… in fact my brother never misses an opportunity to tell my mother not to wear her wig & that she looks better without it. But then again this is not our physical appearance in question, it is hers. Some women embrace the bald look and don’t really care who notices…some woman, like my mother, wish to keep the normalcy in their life. Both types of woman are perfectly accurate in their approaches. So it’s never ‘just hair’, because if it was, the rest of us would not think twice about shaving it off.
- It is unfortunate that we live in a time where cancer is no stranger in most homes, therefore showing empathy when we speak should not be rocket science to us. Acknowledge the struggle that the person is going through, offer support or a simple message of encouragement. The last thing they want is pity. Do not hold their hand and cry as if they are dying – cancer is not a death sentence. Also, tough love may work in certain instances but understand that a cancer patient cannot be 100% positive and optimistic all of the time. They are going to have bad days, days which are filled with frustration and tears – and they are most certainly allowed that. Being told “don’t feel sorry for yourself” or “gosh, you aren’t strong hey” is not appropriate to say the least.
- “Just A Bump In The Road” – I think my mother has heard this line more than she cares to admit. Chances are it is said in a manner which implies that she will be back to her normal life in no time… but imagine hearing this on an on-going basis. It is not just a bump in the road… the ‘bump’ is life altering. This disease in most instances strips a person of all normalcy… from the simple pleasures of seeing friends and relatives (in order to prevent the contraction of viruses, due to their now weak immune system), or having the independence to do your own shopping… to even being put off work and having to depend on others. Whilst pity is most certainly not needed, we should still acknowledge the struggle a cancer patient has to endure before they hear those glorious words “remission/ cancer free.”
So that’s our list… I’m pretty sure there are more but I’ll stop here, with the ones mom has personally encountered.
I came across this video on YouTube, and it is definitely worth a watch. What It’s Really Like To Have Cancer