Most cancer blogs seem to have posts devoted to the topic of the things that people say to people with cancer. I’ve come across some brilliant posts that made me laugh and groan because they made me realise that dealing with uncomfortable reactions and comments, is alas, an occupational hazard for every cancer patient.
I’ve written my own variations on “what to say … what not to say”:
Those two posts were a long list of “don’ts” written with the cancer patient on the indignant moral high ground, and must have made readers feel that they have to tip-toe around the cancer patient for fear of saying the wrong thing, or that cancer patients have no sense of humour!
The fact is: cancer seems to inspire foot-in-mouth disease-type responses. At the end of the day, we’re all imperfect. The words “sorry if what I said upset you” go a long way to patching things up, and people on the cancer journey are really very grateful for (and need) all the support (and kind words) we get.
Here is a summary of the posts (with a lighter touch) of some of the characters I’ve met, in response to “I’ve got cancer”. (I’m tempted to get these made up into T-shirts!)
1. The Chemo Saint
It’s meant to be reassuring, but we’ve all been told of the person who sailed through chemotherapy. She/he was never sick, never lost her hair, ran a fund-raising marathon every day, and worked through all 36 cycles of chemotherapy! I call her the Chemo Saint. The fact is, chemotherapy is a very individual thing – people have different types of chemo, and different reactions. We all hope and pray we sail through it, but the reality is, it’s a grim treatment. There is a tendency to want to romanticise cancer treatments because they’re so awful and in the real world, no one would volunteer for them. It’s nice to have reassurance, but on the other hand, it may make the cancer patient feel inferior if she doesn’t sail through chemotherapy. Please leave the Chemo Saint in the cupboard where she belongs!