Rants

7. Rants: What not to say to someone with cancer

This post is part of a new section on my blog called Rants. It is where I get to have a rant about all the things that have pissed me off on this journey. And I love a good rant, don’t you? Things I will be getting off my chest… 5 year survival rates, cannabis oil and the law, clinical trials and whatever else I feel like! I’m thinking of having a guest rant part so if you want to get in touch with a rant relevant to my blog, please do! I’ll see what comes in and see if it suits. Email is maireadmcwellness[a]gmail.com. So to start, what not to say to someone with cancer…

rant1

Obviously I am speaking for myself here and am basing these opinions on my personal experience of what people have said to me that has upset me or pissed me off. This isn’t meant to cause offence to anyone, I’m pretty sure other people won’t have experienced the same reaction but I’ve had some things said to me that has really, really affected me. And if you’re the person that said it? Well, I forgive you. But don’t say it again!

How are you holding up?

Why is this upsetting? Well it implies that something really bad has happened. And it has. But pointing that out to me is shit. Don’t do it. I’m well aware of the gravity of the situation, no need to point it out.

I hope you’re living life to the full

This means that you think I’m going to die. Cheers for that! Someone said this to me on the phone one day. I felt like telling them to fuck off. I probably should have.

How are you feeling?

It’s a genuine question. It comes from a place of kindness and concern. And I don’t mind it as much these days because I’m more able for talking to people about it but in the beginning… it was the worst thing to hear. I have mostly been in good form since diagnosis. Obviously I’ve had my fair share of bad days but I can honestly say the good days outweigh the bad, by a lot. So when you’re in good form, going about your day, doing something menial and not thinking about cancer, every time someone asks you how are you feeling, brings you right back into it. It’s opening a conversation to specifically talk about cancer. Maybe I don’t want to talk to you about it, or talk about it all. The ‘how are you feeling’, takes that choice away. It’s cancer talk straight away. If I want to talk to you about cancer, I’ll bring it up. Trust me, I think and talk about it enough.

Are you sure you’re not in denial?

This was a particularly bad comment. I was 4 months into my treatment at this stage. I had made the decision not to do chemotherapy months previously. I was getting on with things. I was in good form, making progress. This phrase was used along with other things like, why won’t you do chemo? People survive cancer these days, the outcomes are much better. Are you sure Paul is ok with this? Are you sure you know what you’re doing? I was really mad. I will fucking die if I do chemo, do you not understand? A few years to live they said, with chemo. How do you not get that? I’m trying to cure myself!!! A bit of support would be nice.

It’s sad

Someone started talking to me about my diagnosis in a waiting room. I had tried to sway the conversation another way a few times but they were persistant! They had heard how serious it was from someone else. They commented that it was sad, you know with your child and all. I wasn’t feeling at all sad that day. You never know how someone is feeling at that moment and putting a label of ‘sad’ on them, is really shit. It will make them sad if they’re not already.

When the time comes

Another one that tells me you think I’m going to die. I don’t think I’m going to die. I think I’m going to make a full recovery. This is condescending and undermining of my drive and ambition to stay alive. It’s like saying ‘when you fail’ to someone about to sit an exam.

how you really feel

Being referred to as ‘sick’, ‘ill’, ‘not well’….

This still happens. I know it’s innocent but hearing that I’m sick when I don’t feel sick doesn’t sit well with me, it doesn’t sound right, because it’s not right. I haven’t been ‘sick’ for one day * since I was diagnosed. I haven’t taken a single prescription drug ** in my quest to get well. My idea of sick is someone who is so incapacitated by illness that they can’t go about their day. I feel normal. I have had some pain from time to time but nothing severe enough to warrant pain control. And the only times I’ve laid in bed all day were the days I was too depressed or too stoned to get up. It’s kind of similar to chemo in a way I guess because it’s not the cancer that makes you feel sick or tired or unwell, it’s the treatment you take, and cannabis oil did make me feel unwell a good few times. It’s not the walk in the park I thought it would be.

*This is a lie, I was really sick after Electric Picnic and Cliff and Denise’s wedding but that was alcohol induced.

** Another lie, I took Solpadene on both of the above occasions

So what do you say?

If you’re wondering how to talk to someone with cancer, just be normal. Don’t treat them differently. If they want to talk about it they will. Say how are you instead of how are you feeling. It leaves the conversation open to go in any direction and doesn’t point it in one way. Tell them about your shitty day at work or your plans for the summer holidays. Yes it’s awful that they have to go through the process but just be normal. People don’t change from cancer overnight, they are still the same person, just with a new challenge on their hands. And we need your support. So support your family or friends choices, even if you don’t agree with them. Challenging someone who is feeling very vulnerable is not helpful, in fact it can be devastating. And if you say you’re going to help with something, then do it. If it’s giving a lift, helping with housework, making some food or juice, keep your word! The most helpful things people have done for me are… helping me batch cook, making me juice, giving me lifts to places, picking Ali up, babysitting… all the day to day things. And if you can’t help with any of that and you feel useless, just drop a text and say you’re thinking of them and send your well wishes. It really means a lot. This sounds like I’m fishing for support… I’m not!! Pretty much everyone I’ve ever known has gotten in touch to wish me well, thank you all, it is much appreciated.

Next time…. Cannabis oil: Part I – the science bit


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