Josh Haddon
The Funny Thing About Cancer, by Josh Haddon
EmilyMcDowell

SAY WHAT? THINGS NOT TO SAY TO CANCER FIGHTERS.

When it comes to cancer related ‘well-wishes’, we have all had someone say something completely outrageous to us. Something that makes you shake your head hard, like you have water stuck in your ear. In speaking to other cancer fighters, I am finding more and more that this is a topic people want discussed. As fellow Chemosabis, we get it. But someone needs to tell all those Muggles out there that they need to check their words!
Some of the things people say to us are unbelievably insensitive and/or offensive. In my case, I doubt any of it was intentional, but intent aside, they can be annoying or worse, they can hurt. Many times people are just simply caught off guard when they hear of your diagnosis. What comes out of their mouths is often bizarre. Sometimes you just laugh, other times you just roll your eyes, shake your head and even get angry. One thing is for sure; you never forget the ridiculous attempts some people make as their way of ‘helping’.

This problem is so prevalent in our lives that this essay was the first I wanted to write. Yet, it was one of the last I completed. I’ve wrestled with myself on which comments to include and which to omit. Let’s hit on the big ones first.

“Cancer isn’t as hard as it used to be.”

Cancer isn’t as hard as it used to be? Well that’s odd, it sure felt hard when I was stripping my vomit-covered sheets for the third time in a week while being 5 days constipated and having hemorrhoids so large I thought they might turn into a Kim Kardashian-esque booty. By far the easiest part was definitely that everything-tasting-like-metal thing mmm mmm. Oh and my mouth sores making it feel like I was swishing broken glass around like I would Listerine, that was super fun!

“Have you tried…”

I totally get it, you saw this thing that your cousins friend Alex shared on Facebook. It was about how his brother-in-laws nephew used some Asian plant extract to cure his cancer for good. Amazing right? No. I get that you are trying to help and think you could save my life from your iPhone, but believe me when I say, I spend more time researching MY CANCER online and playing Dr. Google than you could. Please trust me that despite what you might think, I really am trying to not die.

And believe me, I know that Dr. Oz told you eating fruit will help your constipation in normal life, but my actual cancer doctors have me on industrial strength laxatives that are not working. I really doubt a little extra pomegranate in my diet is going to change the world.

Friends: Unless you have a piece of information that you really don’t think we can live without, please do not make treatment suggestions to us.

“Well, you don’t look sick!”

Over the past few months, as I’ve wrapped up my chemotherapy and have been recovering from surgery, more and more people feel the need to tell me something along the lines of, you look great, you must be cured! This is absolute insanity. The captain of the Titanic looked great, shirt pressed, coat buttoned up in it’s full breasted glory with hat firmly square on his head, yet the ship was still sinking. Then again, I’ve lost almost a hundred pounds and have a tan, so in their defense, I do look damn good!

Like I’m sure you do, I found I didn’t want to feel discounted. Being who I am, I spent most days doing everything I could, not to seem like a sick and dying person while going through my treatment. I wanted to be fun to be around because cancer is so much easier to fight when you’re not alone. But just because I am putting on a front, I don’t want my illness or complete and utter physical discomfort minimized. Despite how a cancer patient may look, they are likely much more physically and emotionally drained than they are leading on. I know, I can see you nodding in agreement right now, you look good… cute mouth sores by the way.

“If anyone can beat this you can! You’re so strong and brave!”

I didn’t really want to include this one because it totally makes sense for someone to say. They want to encourage us.

Something about this statement makes me crazy though. I am already super nuts, so for this to add to that is a scary notion. Is the implication in this statement that people who die as a result of cancer didn’t fight hard enough? I feel like people who say this think that we can actually use will power to make our cancer jump out of our bodies. As you’ve read, I am all for staying positive as a way to help fight cancer, but I’m not naïve enough to think that only the strong survive. Just as there are some miserable negative Nancy’s who beat cancer, there are many positive Pete’s who do not.

As for the bravery thing, doesn’t bravery imply having a choice?

Despite all the asinine comments, there is good news though!  There is light at the end of tunnel. This is something just brilliant. Emily McDowell is a cancer survivor and artist who used her craft to create some amazing empathy cards with a warm, funny and sarcastic edge to them.

Some of her cards read:

“Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason.”

“I am so sorry you’re sick. I want you to know that I will never try to sell you on some random treatment I read about on the internet.”

“I promise never to refer to your illness as a “journey”. Unless someone takes you on a cruise.”

“When life gives you lemons, I won’t tell you a story about my cousin’s friend who died of lemons.”

By the tone of these amazing greeting cards that you can purchase at www.emilymcdowell.com, Emily has experienced exactly what this part of the book is dedicated to.

I find that I have a much happier life when I just take the good with the bad and laugh off the sometimes-hurtful remarks. If you are surrounding yourself with the right people and keeping a positive mental attitude, a comment or two shouldn’t get you down.

Have you had people say ridiculous things to you? Leave some examples in the comments or tweet them to me @hahahaddon using #CancerComments

(Image Credit Emily McDowell)

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Comments (10)

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    Tracy

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    I imagine what’s going on in your house looks like what’s going on in mine. Said by a women who was experiencing morning sickness while visiting my husband and me after his esophagus was removed because of esophageal cancer.

    Reply

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      joshwritesstuff

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      That’s super insensitive. People always want to ‘one up’. Like HER bringing life into the world is anything like cancer trying to take our life away…shaking my head!

      Reply

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    Bonnie

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    I have a very well-meaning neighbor who kept asking when my treatment would be “done”. On a particularly bad day I practically yelled “I’m stage 4! Treatment will be done when I’m cured or dead!” At least she doesn’t ask anymore,

    Reply

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      joshwritesstuff

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      No one gets it eh?
      Your response is great Bonnie!

      They mean well, but seriously – when am I done? When I die, shut up! Haha.

      Reply

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    Dave

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    A couple of things come to mine while fighting my stage 4 Lymphoma….the first one is “you got this!”……what if I don’t “got this”…..what does that exactly mean? Hell – I don’t even “want this”…much less be able to tolerate the sickness and the treatment…..I didn’t know I had a choice in this one :) The second one is “I know how you feel”……hell – I don’t know how anyone else feels with the same cancer as I do…..so how does that person know how I feel?? I feel pretty damn good most days…..within reason……that would be the same as me (male) going up to a woman who is pregnant and sicker than a dog and saying “I know how you feel”…..I have NO idea how she feels……I just find that rude as hell :)

    Reply

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    Dave

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    sorry…meant “mind” and not “mine”……stupid neuropathy in fingers strikes again :)

    Reply

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    Nicole

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    I was 27 years old when I was diagnosed with colon cancer 2 years ago and I’ve heard my share of insensitive/rude/ridiculous comments. The latest came in the form of a forwarded article from a vegan friend… (the vegan part being significant since it was basically an article about lentils). The article was entitled “Colon Cancer Prevention: Is it the Fiber or the Phytates?”. Umm hello… I think I’m beyond the point of “prevention”

    Reply

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    kerry

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    A so called friend i advoid now said after i ezpressed my wish to survive untill my so to be 17 year old daughter gets to 18 so she inherits the house etc.. she looked me in the eyes and said your be lucky …..shes a cow so i advoid her now and i love your website and you make me feel happier and brave thankyou xx

    Reply

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    Steffani

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    I just found out my dad has leukemia (three hours ago,) but the doctors were originally concerned it was both lymphoma and leukemia. When I saw him for the first time since getting the news, I said, “So you’re only fighting one kind instead of two.” I have no idea how I’m supposed to react, but I don’t think that’s how.

    Reply

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