The other night I perused a few online news articles and their comment sections. There was an article on CNN’s webpage called Let’s Talk About Sex…And Cancer. One person who commented said a couple of minimally offensive things regarding the complaint that cancer patients have a hard time feeling sexual during and after treatment. This person said things like these are “First World problems” (implying that since we don’t live in a Third World country and have problems like starvation and war, cancer patients should just stop whining about surviving cancer) and “I really don’t think I would be too worried about sex if I was surviving cancer.” In the thread in which many objected to the latter remark, this person admitted to not having cancer. Duh, that was pretty clear.
At any rate, the stupidity of these comments distracted me from another well-meaning but ignorant comment, in the same article, made to a woman detailing how her mastectomy scars made her feel. The well-meaning person who responded said something like “oh so sorry, can’t you get reconstruction?” Ugh! Eye-roll, snort of derision (from me). The first person patiently explained how reconstruction isn’t some magical solution. But at lease the well-meaning, ignorant person had some compassion. It makes me re-think my complaints of all the stupid (but well-intentioned) things people say to cancer patients. I can forgive it if the comment comes from compassion. Comments like “I really don’t think I would be too worried about sex if I was surviving cancer,” when spoken by someone without cancer—not so much.
Sadly, this recent stupidity reminded me of something I read several months ago, in the comments to 10 Things Not To Say To A Cancer Patient by Suleika Jaouad, New York Times ‘Well’ columnist. One awful person commented that people should not have to walk on eggshells (meaning watching what he or she says) around those with cancer, and goes on to say things like “be brave & suck it up. Everybody dies.”
Wow. I wonder if these people realize how easy it is to say these kinds of awful things when they aren’t the ones doing the dying, the coping with cancer treatments. Or are they?
This is where the inspirational quotes come in for me. I think of a popular inspirational quote I’ve seen on Tumblr frequently, saying something to the effect that everyone you run into has fought or is fighting something, has experienced some modicum of struggle. I think the quote is supposed to make the reader less judgmental and motivated to show compassion, even when other people say or do stupid things—we don’t know what is going on with that person. I think back to my life before cancer. Did I have struggles? Absolutely, but they were nothing compared to cancer, cancer was bigger than all my previous struggles combined. OK, it is possible the commenters troubling me today survived rape/abuse, or drug addiction, or maybe another kind of life-threatening disease. But the insensitivity of the words makes me doubt that. I’m not suggesting that people who’ve gone through horrible things all wind up being compassionate people incapable of saying such ugly things. I mean hell, look at the crap I write, I can be pretty unafraid of confronting some awful truths, but I don’t think I am deliberately ugly or mean, I hope I do not come off that way.
Which brings me to a popular (on Tumblr) quote by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” The comments in my first paragraph lack sensitivity, compassion and concern, and were made by one who admits to not have faced cancer. The comment in response to “10 Things Not…” also lacks sensitivity, but the bitterness in the words might be because the person has suffered great loss and has no pity left for anyone else facing disaster. Or maybe I wish to make an excuse for his or her comment because my own suffering-induced compassion kicking in? I want to believe that this person is just bitter, and really isn’t that ignorant and cruel, but deep down, I would not be surprised if he or she truly is that ignorant and cruel.
Which finally brings me tone last inspirational quote, which only seems attributed to Twitter, saying “some people were born to be lucky, others were born to be fighters”.
So as a cancer patient I was born to not only to fight the disease, but idiot comments as well? Maybe. Many would say, so don’t read these kinds of articles and the comments that go along with them. But you cannot hide from stupid comments, I got them quite a bit in the early days of cancer and I was shocked and unable to respond. Now that I am wiser and more aware of the sheer amount of insensitivity out there, I can handle the day-to-day, face-to-face so much better; I mind the comments less, and have some prepared responses. Am I a born fighter? Yep, bring on the stupid comments, I got answers.