What Not to Say

People often don't know what to say to someone with cancer. As a result, sometimes people end up saying things that are intended to be nice, but are actually discouraging to a cancer patient. Don't worry, I am here to help. 

Before I delve further into this topic, I do need to say that #TeamSoderlund has been incredibly kind and generous in both word and deed. It's not often that I hear something that makes me cringe. The vast majority of the time I am uplifted and encouraged by everyone I am hanging out with. I also believe that all of the encouragements sent my way are meant to be just that, encouragements, and that they come from a good place. That said, there are a few times where perhaps a comment could have been better thought out, and that's what this post is all about. 

So, here we go. In the spirit of education here are a few things that people say that can leave me feeling a bit cold. 

Giving medical advice & doubting what the doctors are saying - I have to say this is the worst offense in my book, especially doubting doctors. Unless you are a world renowned oncologist or have been treated recently for the exact same disease, I sincerely doubt your knowledge of what is going on medically with someone is better than their doctor's. Remember that cancer is a very scary thing and there is already a lot of uncertainty. You adding your two cents about chemo or other treatments and questioning good medical advice isn't adding anything to the equation and it can lead to someone spending hours questioning for no reason. 

The exception to this is If you have personal firsthand experience with a particular treatment or medication and have advice to offer. For example I have a friend who warned me about the side effects of Zofran (an anti-nausea med) based on her experience when she took the same drug during pregnancy. That was helpful and much appreciated.

You are a fighter, you will beat this - This has been said to me often, which I completely understand. I am a fighter. I think people say this because they want to be positive and aren't too sure what else to say. The problem with this phrase is that someone's personality has very little to do with whether or not cancer treatments will work for a particular person. If there is one thing I have learned it's that we are pretty powerless when it comes to fighting this disease. The drugs either work or they don't. It helps to look at this phrase from the perspective of someone who does not beat cancer. If I die from cancer I certainly hope no one sees it as a personal failure on my part, which is what this phrase can imply. I would venture to guess that nearly all cancer patients want to beat the disease no matter their personality, but as long as they are doing the recommended treatment and taking care of themselves, they actually have no control over whether or not their body ultimately responds to chemo, immunotherapy and/or radiation. 

Instead I think encouraging a positive attitude is a better focus. Saying things like "I admire your positive spirit," or "your courage to face the treatments and the side effects is something to be admired and certainly can't hurt," is much more encouraging, especially on those days when the positive attitude may be a challenge to conjure up.

I am sure everything will work out - Again, I know this is often uttered with the best of intentions and is an expression of hope. The problem I have with it is that it feels to me as if the person saying this does not fully grasp the gravity of my situation or is very uncomfortable talking about the reality that I consider every day. I have cancer, not a cold. I have a kind of cancer that isn't technically curable; one that more people die from than survive it. It's a reality that I have embraced and I really appreciate people who can also acknowledge this fact while still remaining hopeful that the treatments will work. Cancer can be lonely, so knowing that someone "gets" the gravity of what is happening is comforting to me. I want people to be "in" this experience with me and for some reason I find overly optimistic statements create distance. 

Ok, rant over. Again, I don't think ill of anyone who has said these things to me. I am not harboring hurt feelings. I get it, it's hard to know what to say, I hope this helps!