I don’t want to seem like an ungrateful bitch (one whom ironically practices Gratitude) but I feel the need to vent a little. I have cancer, so you will have to forgive me (nice use of the “C-Card,” right?)
I’ll begin today by telling a good story, one quite appropriate for the upcoming Father’s Day holiday.
A friend of mine reached out when she heard about my cancer diagnosis. Many years ago, my parents fixed this friend up with Marty, a wonderful man who happened to be my dad’s best friend in high school. She ended up marrying Marty, and the fact that my dad’s best friend from high school turned out to be her soulmate made both my parents incredibly happy. It makes me happy too.
“Do you know that Marty keeps a picture of your father in his underwear draw?” she asked me.
“I didn’t know that….”
“Yeah, and every night before we go to bed, Marty says goodnight to your dad, and asks me if I want to. I usually say, ‘goodnight Freddy!’ and then we have a laugh.”
Some people just make you feel better, without even trying.
They tell you a story that makes you smile for days.
They send you an email with a joke—and even if it is stupid, it makes you laugh out loud.
They ask how you are today with exactly the right tone, without the sad doggy eyes. They say they are thinking about you, wishing you the best. They say they are sorry that you have to be dealing with something so scary. They give you a hug.
They nail it.
And then there are others, and unfortunately there are more than just a few out there– they are the people who really don’t nail it.
Maybe it’s anxiety about saying the right thing, or maybe it is some crazy attempt to be helpful, but a lot of people say a lot of stupid and pretty ridiculous things when they find out you have breast cancer.
I’m sure they mean no harm, it’s just that they are annoying, and we have enough to be annoyed about already with this cancer stuff.
So here are a few examples of what not to say, some of which have been said to me (I won’t tell which- I managed to write a response to each) or to other women with breast cancer:
- “I have the name of THE BEST oncologist.” I already have an oncologist, thanks, and by the way, I am questioning every single choice I make with this cancer thing, so I would prefer NOT to question whether my doctor is “the best”.
- “OMG that’s terrible! I’m sure I must have something horrible inside of me too!” Ew…And you are terrified of a possibility?
- “It’s just a small tumor and it’s early—you’ll be fine.” Don’t poo poo my cancer. Even if I am fine in the end, this process is traumatic- there is nothing fine about it.
- “Why don’t you just lop them both off?” Because they are a part of my body, and I love them, they are part of sex, and why does this even need an explanation?
- “You Should Take More Drugs.” I’ll take them when I need them, but since I am not in any pain right now maybe you should shut up...
- “General anesthesia’s a breeze. I had it when I got my breast implants.” F*&k you, f*&k you very much. This Lily Allen tune is one of my favorite songs– caveat– quite graphic but really fun. And lest you think I am losing it, it was a favorite BEFORE I was diagnosed.
- “I know all about breast cancer, because my sister (substitute aunt, mother, friend—whatever) had it.” Sorry, relatives don’t count. You are not a member of the club and non-members cannot weigh in.
- “You Need to…” No, I don’t need to…
- “You will be miserable for a year, and then you’ll be over it.” Just a year, huh?, that makes me feel so much better. And no, there is no getting “over it.”
- “I had that biopsy—it turned out negative, so I know what you mean.” See #7 above. You are not a member of the club, so you don’t actually “know.”.
- “At least you’re pretty and if you have to lose your hair you’ll still look good. Just don’t gain any weight.” Offensive. Plus, I am sure I will gain weight so now you have made me feel worse.
- “Are you sure it’s cancer?” Really…?
- “It’s just breast cancer—nobody dies from it and it’s the best cancer to have.” Again, you are poo pooing my cancer, and that is a “No No” (see #3.)
- “Well, at least you’re getting a free boob job!” I can joke about that; you can’t.
- “You are so strong, you can handle it.” No, I’m not. And I don’t want to live up to a standard.
- “Let me tell you about MY cancer…” The thing is, I don’t want to hear about YOUR cancer right now. I am only interested in MY cancer.
- Nothing. Don’t say nothing.
Oh, I know my friends are not going to be happy with me.
“Did I say that?” they’ll wonder.
“I guess if I don’t have a joke or a good story, I better keep my mouth shut,” they’ll think. “Oh my, she’s a lot of work.” I am sorry for that, and quite honestly, I don’t remember who said what (except in a few instances….) I just remember the words being said, and that they were annoying as all hell.
I’m just being honest.
And I always welcome good wishes and gestures and notes of love. Who wouldn’t? I’m just saying, if you don’t know what to say, try not to say something stupid.
And if you happen to have a joke or a story that will make someone smile– cancer or no cancer– why not share it?