Potayto, Potahto?

Remember the song…he says/she says, and they wonder if they can get past their differences? It seems petty to think that something so trivial could determine the potential for their relationship, doesn’t it?

But it rings true. In the breast cancer blogosphere we’ve talked about how much words matter. While we can never truly put ourselves in another’s shoes, it can help to understand that what is sometimes said, even with the very best of intentions, can be heard quite differently by cancer survivors. I’ve been faced with nearly every comment here. I didn’t always respond with what is in my head, but here’s a glimpse of what innocent comments can invoke:God only gives us what we can handle. Besides not thinking God GAVE me this, I am pretty certain this works the other way around: if we chose, we can gain tremendous strength from what life gives us.  And, too, this isn’t just happening to me. Would God not give me this if my husband, and my son, and my parents, and my family, and all my friends weren’t able to handle it?

My (insert female relative or friend here) died of breast cancer. Really? REALLY? Besides the fact that it isn’t helpful, would you like the list of people I’ve loved and lost to this disease? Please…think twice. I don’t ever forget that I am likely to die of this, but I don’t need reminders either.

It will be okay. There is only ONE way for this to be okay…and since it’s really happening, it is NOT going to be okay. On the other hand, if you’re confident it’s going to be okay, how about if we trade places?

You’re strong…you will beat this. Yes, I am strong. And while I’ve gained strength on this journey, I’m not strong because of cancer. To say so is to imply that those who have died are weak and they are NOT. And if I die of this, it won’t be because I’m weak either.

One of my favorites (not), never said at me but often around me: I’m just killing time. Please, please, PLEASE STOP! Time is the ONLY commodity we can NEVER replace. Please don’t KILL it, embrace every moment of it! Because if you have more than you need, I’ll take it…

But you look so great. Thank you, but cancer happens on the inside, not the outside. When you have metastatic breast cancer, there is no cure. If anyone believed that throwing me under the chemo bus would help, I would be as bald and gray and sick as I was last time. We did that to avoid this. Every decision now is about quality of life. I know it’s ironic that am I can look so healthy and be so not, but looks can be very deceiving.

Perhaps there is nothing good to say. In my work with cancer patients I have come to see that there is not a single universal statement that will bring comfort to each and every survivor. Depending on the day of the week, or even the hour of the day, our relationship to cancer, life and mortality shifts like a kaleidoscope.  Even we don’t know what we will be looking at in the next instant. But if there is something I think universally helps, it is being with us. Your willingness to stand still, in the face of the discomfort wrought by knowing we have cancer, and still offer your own vulnerability, transcends words.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jan Baird Hasak
    Aug 15, 2012 @ 19:03:01

    This is such an important conversation to keep alive, Lori. Just today a Facebook friend of mine just diagnosed with breast cancer, who is only 28 and mother of four girls, found out she has 14 positive lymph nodes out of 17 that were sampled. And she must face the Herceptin/chemo nightmare for a year. The young woman’s status report shrieked her distraught state of mind as she questioned, “Why me?”. You wouldn’t believe some of the comments her “friends” made for all of us to read. “God never gives you more than you can bear;” “Once you get through this, it will be such a blessing to others.” Just what she needs to read right now. I simply told her I was very sorry and she was in my thoughts and prayers. At least for now, that’s all I could type, as I wept for her and her family.

    I agree there is no single universal statement that will comfort each survivor. But we can still strive to be sensitive, while showing we care. xoxo

    Reply

    • Audrey
      Aug 15, 2012 @ 23:59:10

      Oh Jan, so sad for your friend. Indeed the well intended but thoughtless comment brings out my dark side!

      Reply

    • Lori
      Aug 16, 2012 @ 17:01:11

      Oh Jan…so very sorry for your friend. There are days when it just seems like it will never end. And more days when there are no words…. Hugs, my friend.

      Reply

  2. chemobrainfog
    Aug 15, 2012 @ 19:43:34

    I’m here. I’m listening. I’m fearless. I will run on a SECOND’S notice if I sense I can do ANYTHING to help you. EVER. Because I love you. But you already knew that.

    xoxoxo

    Reply

  3. DrAttai
    Aug 15, 2012 @ 20:20:26

    For those that don’t know what to say, try “I am here for you”, and then offer a hug. It helps.

    Reply

  4. Audrey
    Aug 16, 2012 @ 00:02:09

    The best one I remember was you are looking well on it. It was nursing colleague too! I learned to avoid her and others. Your advice to just be there as a friend is absolutely spot on I think. Maybe we could run classes or perhaps some people just won’t learn this?

    Reply

  5. Facing Cancer (@cancer2gether)
    Aug 16, 2012 @ 05:55:01

    Well I think you hit a note of truth – there may not be a magic phrase anyone can say which will make things all better. It’s too bad, because I wish there was. However, as I see everyday online, in forums, with friends and family. . . whether it’s said aloud or shown through actions . . . what I personally feel helps considerably (maybe because it makes us feel less alone) is the simplest and most important kind of support: “I’m here for you.”

    (Hey – is it me, or do I see a trend in these comments?)
    Catherine
    http://www.facingcancer.ca

    Reply

  6. Susan
    Aug 16, 2012 @ 09:38:05

    I agree with Dr Attai that saying and meaning I am here for you and giving a hug makes so much sense. I understand what you mean about looking healthy. Everyone I know that has been diagnosed with metastatic cancer has looked the best they have ever looked when diagnosed. Please know that I am here for you-anytime. Thanks for sharing this great post! xoxoxo-Susan

    Reply

  7. Nancy's Point (@NancysPoint)
    Aug 16, 2012 @ 12:37:09

    Lori,
    Like I’ve said before, silence and just being there often mean more than “noisy” words or “worried” well-meaning activity. Silence together with a person’s loving presence are often the greatest gifts of all. I truly believe that. Thanks for writing. I love the images you used.

    Reply

  8. raven's witch
    Aug 16, 2012 @ 15:04:35

    what i hated is when someone says to me “do you remember_____?” insert some horrid part of chemo.!! duh, I LIVED IT. my methadone clinic counselor asked once “do you realize you will probably die? lol…that question followed her other question that meeting which was-“what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” stupid me i had played along and answered, help other drug addicts. trust and believe i learned to pre-face any comment on the future with ‘if i live’

    Reply

  9. raven's witch
    Aug 16, 2012 @ 15:06:18

    Reblogged this on Raven's Witch and commented:
    i wanted to share this blog post.

    Reply

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