What not to say to a cancer survivor …

When I hear these words, I remind myself that the person means well, but don’t know what to say. I thought I’d share a couple of them that happened to me over the last week.

“If I had cancer, I would ….”  This usually degrades into some diatribe about how diet or some other complementary therapy might “cure” cancer. It is actually a very naive view. I actually had someone say to me “if I had cancer, I wouldn’t do chemotherapy” … the problem with that statement is in part that it is too generic. You see, there are different types of cancer. Not all cancers are treated with chemotherapy – hell, not all breast cancers are treated with chemotherapy. But even more than that, the reality is that if you have not had cancer you have no idea what you would do!

I had always thought that if I had cancer I’d want to have it removed immediately. That turned out to be the last thing that I wanted. I delayed my surgery as long as I could. I needed that time to process. Until I had cancer, I had no idea how I would have responded.

The other question I got was whether or not the expression “what doesn’t kill you makes your strong” resonated with me. It is an interesting question, but not one that you really should ask to a cancer survivor. For the most part, people would say NO. Cancer hasn’t killed me yet, but it certainly didn’t make me stronger. Cancer and its treatments have left me with a whole lot of collateral damage. There are things that I do now that I would never have thought to do before (like walking 32.5 miles in two days for the Avon Walk), but overall I would not say that I am “stronger” … I’m just “different” … and in many ways I feel “broken” … I’m struggling to figure out how to get healthy, how to not be broken, but I don’t know how or when that will happen. So for now, I’m striving for feeling well … not there yet either …

So, next time you meet something with cancer, please do not ever contemplate starting a sentence with “If I had cancer, I would …” because the reality is, until you get cancer, you have no clue what you would do.

  • Becky

One Comment

  • So true of so many things. I suppose it’s natural to play the “what if” game – like practice for the real thing – but “here’s what I would do, and you/he/she should too” just demonstrates how little you know about how little you know.

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