What Not To Say




This article is a must read and you can see why.

Copyright 1995 Susan Frisius

"You never know when you're going to die, after all, I could get hit by a bus."

Since I've never known anyone who has been hit by a bus, I don't understand why friends and acquaintances often say this when I first tell them I have breast cancer. Do they think the possibility of their being hit by a bus equals the possibility of my dying from cancer? Besides, I could get hit by a bus too.

"You're lucky you have a treatable disease."

Don't get me wrong. I'm thankful I wasn't told, "There's nothing we can do," but losing pieces of my body, having a radiation machine set off a nuclear war in my breast and getting my veins filled with toxic chemicals doesn't exactly make me feel lucky.

"You'll be fine because you have a great attitude."

If attitude really matters, why did I get cancer in the first place? Or does attitude only matter after you get cancer? Right now my attitude about cancer is lousy. So what does that mean?

"Don't worry, if your time's not up, it's not up."

If that's true, why did I bother with the surgery? Should I cancel the rest of my treatments? Do doctors perform surgery and give chemo and radiation for no good reason? After all, "if my time's up," treatments won't help.

"I've read that anger and stress lead to cancer."

Great! Now I caused my own cancer.

"You should simplify your life."

It's pretty simple now, all I seem to do is go to medical appointments.

"I've read that people can keep cancer from coming back by changing their diet. Maybe you should try to improve yours since it didn't keep you from getting cancer. That's why I watch everything I eat."

The person who tells me this knows I only eat natural foods, cook everything from scratch, don't eat junk foods and rarely eat meat.

"You eat white pasta," she says when she sees my puzzled look.

Of course, she eats white pasta too, but calls the flour "semolina." Does she really think if I had eaten pasta with "semolina" on the label I wouldn't now have cancer?

One person says, "If you really want to live, you will. Just never give up. When people give up, they die."
If I were hit and killed by a bus would she think I died because I gave up?

Another person tells me to visualize the cancer shrinking. She says, "If you really work at it, you can eliminate it."

Most conversations end with "call if you need anything."

I don't have the energy to call anyone - I can hardly feed myself and get to my medical appointments.

Why do intelligent and sensitive people who care about me say such things? Can they really believe I'm responsible both for my cancer and the outcome of my treatments?

I think these people want to believe cancers are caused by a person's poor emotional state or diet. This lets them think they won't get cancer because they think they eat properly and handle their lives and emotions well. Unfortunately, it also makes them feel uncomfortable around me because they're afraid they'll find out their attitudes and diets are no better than mine. So I hear, "How can you be so cheerful?" and "All that yogurt can't be good for you," and "Put your daughters in foster care, they're too stressful for you."

I have no doubt that everyone I talked to about my cancer was concerned about me and wanted to help me keep a positive outlook. I'm sure they were sincere when they said, "I'd like to have you over for dinner sometime, but I know everything makes you sick," or "It's good to see you out grocery shopping, I was worried because I hadn't seen you for a while."

I'm sure friends would have been happy to help if I had called them and asked for assistance. Most likely they thought they were being considerate when they didn't visit or call "so I could rest." I think they just didn't know what to do or say.

So what would help me while I'm being treated for cancer?

Drop in or call. The only way you'll know what I need is if you keep in touch. Remember, if I'm out in the community, I'm well enough to be out. It's when you don't see me that I need your support.

Don't wait for me or my immediate family to ask you for help. It takes too much energy and I don't like admitting I can no longer cope with everyday living. When you want to help, don't ask what I need, just do it. Bring me a meal (white pasta is fine), wash my floors while I sleep, take my children to a movie, get the oil changed in my car, pick up a few vegetables for me at a farm stand, change a burned out light bulb, take my empty yogurt container off the coffee table and throw it out.

Don't minimize the illness that scrambles my life by telling me about simple causes and self cures. Everything I've held important has been touched by it - my ability to raise my children, my work, my independence, my social life.

Don't let your fear of hearing about cancer keep you away. While cancer has become a big part of my life, it's not my whole existence and I am able to converse on other subjects.

Remember my immediate family. My cancer affects them emotionally as much as it does me. My kids and parents need their friends' support now more than they ever did.

If I let you know your company is too much for me at the time, come back. If I don't answer the phone, call again. I need to know I can count on you because I'm temporarily unable to count on myself.

If you're feeling helpless because someone you know has cancer, don't. Take them a meal and eat it with them. Talk to them as you wash their dishes. Play a game with their kids so they can hear laughter. Pet their cat until it purrs. Bring over a book and read it to them.

Both of you will fell better when you take action.


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