Life Redefined: Keep Your Spirit Fingers to Yourself
When cancer is the topic of discussion, the conversation tends to turn awkward in about two seconds. Cancer is such a fear-invoking word that when we hear it, especially when it’s associated with a friend or family member’s name, we often don’t know what to say and end up mumbling something that either makes no sense or does nothing to help the situation. I’m guilty of mumbling this nonsense in the past because I didn’t understand. I was ignorant. Now, I’m gifted with the ability to know what to say and perhaps more importantly, what not to say when someone tells me he/she has been diagnosed with cancer.
I’m here to liberate you from the conversations filled with awkward silences and mumbled nonsense. Some members of our thylignant thymunnity have chimed in to help me compile a list of things we don’t want to hear when talking about our cancer, followed by some suggestions of what you can say that won’t leave us feeling like we’re on the island of misfit toys.
What we don’t want to hear:
“You’ll be fine!”
This is not a good thing to say to those of us with cancer because the truth is you don’t know if we’ll be fine or not. You don’t know what statistic we’ll fall in. You don’t know if we’ll be part of the survival statistic or the death statistic. You don’t know, so don’t pretend you do.
“If you have to have cancer, this is the one you want to have. This is the good/easy cancer…
When you say this, you’re implying that we chose to have cancer, and that’s a horrible implication to make. Cancer is not a choice, it’s not good, and it’s not easy. If you say this to us, don’t be shocked to get slapped in the face. You’ve been warned.
Unsolicited medical advice
If we don’t ask for your medical advice, don’t give it to us. When we’re talking to you about cancer, we most likely just want you to listen. Unless you’re the doctor, keep your medical opinion to yourself and just listen.
A pep talk
When we are opening up to you about what we’re going through, we aren’t looking for you to flash your spirit fingers at us like Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On. , Keep your pom poms at home, fight the urge to come up with a peppy response, and just listen.
“At least it’s just a little bit of cancer…”
Cancer is cancer. The size of the tumor does not dictate the amount of fear; the mere presence of cancer is what causes fear.
“Your life will be back to normal after surgery and radiation. All you’ll have to do is take one little pill each day…
We aren’t the same people we were before being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “NormalÃ¢â‚¬ isn’t what it used to be. Living a “normalÃ¢â‚¬ life is not as easy as popping one pill every day. Survival means not only learning how to redefine ourselves in the face of cancer, but also learning how to live with a chronic disease as we are now sans thyroid. We are hypothyroid because we’ve had our cancerous thyroids removed but are medically thrown into a hyperthyroid or near hyperthyroid state to keep any thyroid tissue still in our bodies inactive. Our bodies are confused, and swallowing one little pill does not restore clarity.
“I’m so glad this is all behind you…
Even when the surgery is over and we’ve had RAI, cancer is still a part of our thoughts. It’s not behind us. It’s something we think about all the time, every single day. I can’t be certain because I’ve only had cancer for a year and a half, but I don’t think it will ever be completely out of my mind.
You didn’t give us cancer so you have no need to apologize. We don’t want your pity.
“My cousin’s neighbor’s friend’s sister had thyroid cancer…”
What’s your point? We are not your cousin’s neighbor’s friend’s sister, so it’s extremely unlikely we’ll go through the same things as she did. Everyone deals with cancer differently, and to compare my cancer with someone else’s often trivializes what I’m going through.
“My aunt had cancer. She’s dead now, but you’ll be fine…”
I don’t think this requires much explanation, but just in case;if you know of anyone who died from cancer, don’t talk to us about it when we’re trying to tell you about our own struggles with cancer. We know that cancer kills people every day. We don’t need you to remind us.
What we do want to hear:
“I’m rooting for you/thinking about you and your family…”
This shows us that you care about what we’re going through and that you’re concerned for us. We appreciate the positive attitude this brings to the table.
“Let me know if there is anything I can do for you…”
This one is kind of tricky. This is a good thing to say if your only intent is to show that you care. If you say this, don’t expect us to tell you what to do for us. It’s just not likely to happen because it makes us feel needy.
“I am going to bring you dinner. What day should I come?”
It doesn’t have to be dinner, but if you want to do something tangible, come up with the idea on your own. We are not going to ask for help, so if you want to actually do something for us you have to make the initiative.
“Would you share a little more with me about thyroid cancer and what you have to go through?”
This shows that you are sincerely interested in what we have to go through and how we are feeling. Plus, when we’re ready to talk about it, we like telling our stories because it helps spread awareness.
It’s OK to just listen. Don’t feel like you have to offer a response to everything we say. We don’t expect you to come up with a cure for our cancer. We don’t even expect you to respond. Just listen!,
Cancer does suck. We appreciate when you acknowledge that although you don’t understand what we’re going through, you understand it’s a crapfest.
“I know I don’t understand, but I’m with you every step of the way…
This is a great show of support. When you say this, you’re letting us know that you’re a shoulder to cry on when we feel like we’re drowning, an ear to listen when we need to rant, or just a friend to be with when we don’t want to be alone.
These lists are not all-inclusive, but hopefully this gives you a general idea of what we do and don’t like to hear when talking about what we are going through. I hope this keeps you from feeling awkward next time you’re talking to someone about their experience with cancer.
What else would you add to the list? Is there anything you would take off the list? How do you feel when people give ignorant responses when you’re discussing your disease?
Aside: Please continue supporting, Dr. Sarah Myhill, to end the witch hunt for this fine doctor in the UK.
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