May 01, 2015
Why I don't feel offended when people say the wrong things about my cancer diagnosis
BY Michele Longabough
Since my own stage IV anal cancer diagnosis five years ago, I have done plenty of reading surrounding what not to say to someone with a stage four cancer diagnosis. Through these articles, I've noticed the list can be quite extensive. After all, there are so many types of cancers and personalities.
But the top comments that seem to appear over and again include, but are not limited to:
- "You can beat this!"
- "Everything will OK!"
- "If you pray and believe enough, God will heal you!"
- "_____ can cure you!"
Sometimes, the wrong words just come out
Trust me when I say this: I have heard it all. And yes, some of the things that people said to me after my anal cancer diagnosis hurt my feelings.
But after thinking about why anybody would say such things, I thought about what I would say if I were faced with a close friend's diagnosis. I knew I, too, would say the wrong things.
Think about it. Someone discovers I have cancer, it's stage IV and it's anal cancer on top of that. Let's face it, it's a real stunner.
Almost every word we speak spontaneously is pretty thoughtless. We rarely calculate what we are going to say in such situations. It just comes out.
Why I stopped feeling offended and hurt
I rarely feel offended anymore when people offer up these comments and advice. I always figure they are just wishing the best for me. They're not really sure what to say, so they speak spontaneously from their hearts. I just try not to overanalyze any advice and words offered to me.
I often don't even know what to say back to them. So I have been known to, you could say, nurture the awkward words of encouragement spoken to me. I don't speak out or correct these well-wishers.
When I see someone lashing back on social media to a well-wisher offering comfort, it makes me angry. I think, "Wow. They just said something from a place of helplessness, and that's what they get back -- a public spanking?"
I am not on a mission to slap down well-wishers' words with a chastising rebuttal to their statements. Instead, I thank them and engage them in a conversation about my cancer. It's a chance for both of us to learn.
Once I decided that I was going to take this approach, I stopped feeling hurt. I've stopped thinking people are being thoughtless or ignorant.
Because I feel they intend no harm, I generally say thank you and often end up comforting them about my anal cancer diagnosis. Weird, yes. But I just roll with it. It's one less thing I have to worry about on my cancer journey.
We all say the wrong things
I know what it feels like to not know what to say. I know what it's like to have that awkward moment when someone tells you awful news about themselves or a loved one. You feel helpless.
It happened to me just recently. A dear friend's mother was stricken suddenly with symptoms and then an ominous tumor discovered with testing. When she told me, I embraced her in a big hug and said what was in my heart -- all the wrong things.
I just roll with it. It's one less thing I have to worry about on my cancer journey.