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3 Things NOT To Say To Cancer Patients

July 17th, 2015 |
Relationships

by bellajenna | Survivor: Breast Cancer    Connect


There are certain phrases that people with cancer are used to hearing, including "you'll be fine" "it's the good kind" and "you're so brave." Read more to find out why many people dislike these well-intended messages.

I’ve had cancer two times, and both times, I heard the following three statements multiple times. I know that they were not intended to be negative or to make me angry, but I also know that I speak on behalf of so many fighters and survivors out there when I say that we HATE to hear these things.

"Oh, they caught it early, so it's the good kind! You'll be fine."

    Early stage does not mean you’ll be fine-because even if you are physically fine, your life will never be the same. Telling someone they have the ‘good kind of cancer’ is like saying there is a ‘good kind’ of nuclear war - you know, just a small bomb, one little country, no biggie. There is no ‘good kind’ of cancer, for any type- breast or otherwise. If I had been diagnosed with pinky toenail cancer I would still be crushed. But when I hear people say this I try not to get too worked up. Obviously, they are naïve. It’s likely they haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, nor have they had someone close to them battle it. Sometimes those words are said out of discomfort or because they just don’t know what else to say. People often want to find something positive to say about something so truly awful. Even if I will be 'fine', whatever that means, you don't know that, and neither do I.

"You're a tough cookie and so brave and strong and positive. You'll be fine."

    Just because you have a great outlook does not mean you'll be fine-cancer doesn’t pick and choose based on personality alone. Am I tough? Well, yes, but the word stubborn might be more accurate. Am I strong? Yes. Positive? Depends on the day. But brave? I’m just doing what anyone else in my situation would do. I take my meds, I go to my appointments and I listen to my doctors - even if I don’t feel like it. Bravery is choosing to put your life in jeopardy to help others...but I never chose this. Cancer is unpredictable and the statistics can mean nothing depending on the case. It’s ignorant to think that only upbeat, positive people who are diagnosed early can handle the atrocities of a serious illness. Statistically, I should have never even gotten cancer once (let alone twice). So I throw all statistics out the window. Cancer is a crapshoot. There is no 'good kind' and there is no rhyme or reason as to who will get it and who won’t. Heredity plays its role-but it is not always the rule. Cancer cells aren’t that intelligent.

    I know so many survivors and even more warriors. I don't know who they were before the disease - I only know them as they are now. Each one fights in their own way. Each uses whatever coping mechanisms they have. I know some long-term survivors that were diagnosed at stage four. They will remain in treatment most likely for the rest of their lives; trying new drugs as they become available, or until, miraculously, there is 'no evidence of disease' (NED).

"You’ll look back on this as a gift! You'll be fine."

    By no means is cancer a gift. For me, I'm certainly grateful for each day that I wake up, feel good, have coffee with my husband, and kiss my kids. I'm even grateful for each day where I grumpily wake up, mutter swears, and give my alarm clock the middle finger. I understand cancer is not the most comfortable topic BUT the one phrase that gets me every time is when people like to say that this is a gift. A cosmic joke maybe. A kick in the teeth definitely. But a gift? I'm not sure what some people received in the past for their birthdays but if you consider cancer a gift - you must have gotten some pretty crappy presents. I could never, ever consider the pain I went through -and in turn put my loved ones through-a gift.

That's not to say that cancer hasn't allowed me something I would not have ever had otherwise...a sisterhood of survivors that I am honored to have in my life and call my friends. I would not call them a gift, but I do know that had I not moved into Cancertown, I would never have had the privilege of meeting them. The quote, "you don't know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have" absolutely applies to these ladies. They live it every day.

These women have become a part of my daily life. They get me. I'd like to dedicate this blog to my sisters - the ones in the trenches fighting for their lives and staying strong for their loved ones. We may all come from different places, different backgrounds, social standings, ethnicity, religions but somehow we all ended up on cancer's doorstep. And like being invited to a huge dinner party where you only know the host; we stepped out of our comfort zones, compared war stories, flashed our scars, cheered for each other when the follow-up scans were good, and rallied around each other when they weren't. These are my fellow survivors and warriors, the only women I can truly sit down with and talk about "something only we know."

And they know exactly how it feels to not know what to say when a well-intending friend or stranger says "it's the good kind", "you'll be fine" or "it's a gift". We can smile and recognize that it's just because they don't know what else to say, and then we work together to try and teach the world exactly what we, the cancer fighters and survivors, DO want to hear.

What else do you have to add to this list? Share in the comments below.

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bellajenna    Connect

Survivor: Breast Cancer

Jennifer Lukowiak is a two-time breast cancer survivor, indie author, blogger, fashionista, tattooed rock and roll mama, Jenn dishes the nitty-gritty details doctors leave out in her first book, “Does This Outfit Make Me Look Bald? How a Fashionista Fought Breast Cancer with Style,” a witty and okay-to-laugh-out loud journey through the unmentionables of breast cancer. She continues the dialogue on her website, TheFashionistaFights.com as a current, ongoing blog. You can find her on IHC under the username bellajenna.

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