Talking to People With Cancer 101

Found this on another blog:

1. Before recommending treatment options, do some research, and be sure not to imply chemotherapy, surgery or radiotherapy etc are unnecessary or pointless.
Its tedious having to feign interest in a friend’s well-meaning rant about alternative treatments that have no evidence suggesting their effectiveness combating cancer. Cancer patients go through hell to be cured. The usual treatments (listed above) are the usual treatments because they are known to be effective. Implying that what we go through is pointless or unnecessary is offensive, upsetting, ignorant and exasperating. 

2. When we’re talking about our experiences, starting rambling about people who’ve died or are dying from cancer is not an appropriate segue. 
This should be obvious, but it’s not. People do this shit. Once you’ve been diagnosed with something like cancer you are constantly aware of your own mortality and the possibility of an early death. We are sorry you’ve lost/are losing people, but directly connecting death to what we are going through isn’t really helpful or what we want from friends most of the time. 

3. Just because of what we’re going through, doesn’t mean we suddenly lose interest in what’s going on for other people.
You are our FRIENDS. We care about you and want to know what’s going on in your lives MORE THAN EVER. When you’re sick it’s easy to become separated from the normal world. We want very much to feel involved and connected in the lives of the people important to us.

4. Don’t treat us like we’re fragile. 
Well, we might be physically. We might be tired a lot. But we won’t break if you share a bit of bad news with us, or ask a hard question about what’s going on with us. Use your common sense. Be sensitive, but there is nothing more frustrating than people very obviously beating around the bush with sensitive issues like our prognosis or pain or suffering or other nasty stuff. With the really scary things, sometime no one asks, so we assume no one wants to know and we never get to talk about it.

5. Don’t act scared around us.
Yes, we’re the same person.
No, we aren’t judging you for angsting about homework or something.
No, we aren’t about to fall to the floor and die right in front of you.
No, cancer is not contagious.

6. Don’t stare at our bald heads or lack of eyebrows when you think we’re not looking. 
You don’t have to be weird about it. Mention it. Rub our heads. But don’t turn our appearance into the elephant in the room. We get enough of that crap from strangers in the street. And yes we will notice.

7. If you’re not sure about how to approach a topic with us, or if you can hug us or something, anything, ASK.
We UNDERSTAND that there is no instruction manual for our friends and family, just like there is no instruction manual for US. No one knows how to deal with this. And we get that. So just ask if you have a question.

8. Remember that cancer does not discriminate.
A lot of cancer just happens. People who never smoke a day in their lives get lung cancer. Virgin Mary types get ovarian cancer. Rich, poor, good, bad, vegan, carnivore, natural, chemical. Every lifestyle can end in cancer. I’m pretty sure most do.

9. Implying it was somehow our fault or in our control is not ok. At all. Do not.
Don’t “what if” or “maybe if you hadn’t” or “it’s because you eat meat” or “maybe if you didn’t use deodorant” or other insensitive crap. There are infinite environmental, biological, and genetic variables. We all produce thousands of cancer cells every day. It just takes one to be missed.

10. If we say we don’t want to talk about it, drop that shit.


Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

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