Remember the song…he says/she says, and they wonder if they can get past their differences? It seems petty to think that something so trivial could determine the potential for their relationship, doesn’t it?
But it rings true. In the breast cancer blogosphere we’ve talked about how much words matter. While we can never truly put ourselves in another’s shoes, it can help to understand that what is sometimes said, even with the very best of intentions, can be heard quite differently by cancer survivors. I’ve been faced with nearly every comment here. I didn’t always respond with what is in my head, but here’s a glimpse of what innocent comments can invoke:God only gives us what we can handle. Besides not thinking God GAVE me this, I am pretty certain this works the other way around: if we chose, we can gain tremendous strength from what life gives us. And, too, this isn’t just happening to me. Would God not give me this if my husband, and my son, and my parents, and my family, and all my friends weren’t able to handle it?
My (insert female relative or friend here) died of breast cancer. Really? REALLY? Besides the fact that it isn’t helpful, would you like the list of people I’ve loved and lost to this disease? Please…think twice. I don’t ever forget that I am likely to die of this, but I don’t need reminders either.
It will be okay. There is only ONE way for this to be okay…and since it’s really happening, it is NOT going to be okay. On the other hand, if you’re confident it’s going to be okay, how about if we trade places?
You’re strong…you will beat this. Yes, I am strong. And while I’ve gained strength on this journey, I’m not strong because of cancer. To say so is to imply that those who have died are weak and they are NOT. And if I die of this, it won’t be because I’m weak either.
One of my favorites (not), never said at me but often around me: I’m just killing time. Please, please, PLEASE STOP! Time is the ONLY commodity we can NEVER replace. Please don’t KILL it, embrace every moment of it! Because if you have more than you need, I’ll take it…
But you look so great. Thank you, but cancer happens on the inside, not the outside. When you have metastatic breast cancer, there is no cure. If anyone believed that throwing me under the chemo bus would help, I would be as bald and gray and sick as I was last time. We did that to avoid this. Every decision now is about quality of life. I know it’s ironic that am I can look so healthy and be so not, but looks can be very deceiving.
Perhaps there is nothing good to say. In my work with cancer patients I have come to see that there is not a single universal statement that will bring comfort to each and every survivor. Depending on the day of the week, or even the hour of the day, our relationship to cancer, life and mortality shifts like a kaleidoscope. Even we don’t know what we will be looking at in the next instant. But if there is something I think universally helps, it is being with us. Your willingness to stand still, in the face of the discomfort wrought by knowing we have cancer, and still offer your own vulnerability, transcends words.