I’m years past cancer treatment, so it doesn’t come up in conversations very often anymore. But sometimes, because it’s relevant for some reason or other, I just say, “I had breast cancer seven years ago.”
People usually do a double-take after that. They get all concerned, and ask if I’m okay. Yes, I’m okay. Yes, it was tough, but I really don’t want to get into it. I just needed to give you that small bit of information for the sake of our conversation, but I’d really like to leave it at that.
I know that the people in these situations mean well, I really do. But, I think I probably speak for most cancer patients when I say this: Sometimes (most of the time), we just want to be normal.
When you’re talking to someone with cancer, or who’s had cancer, here are some things you can do (and not do) to help with that:
• If we’re going through treatment, don’t ask us how we are every time you see us. You’re probably the umpteenth person to ask that day. If we want to talk about how we’re feeling, we’ll bring it up.
• Don’t assume that we want to talk about cancer research every minute. A lot of the time, we want to talk about everything but cancer.
• If we look like hell, don’t tell us that. Don’t say anything, unless we bring it up.
• Instead of asking what you can do, suggest something. Something normal, like, “Hey, can I take you to a movie next week?” or “May I bring something over for dinner?” Name a time. Name a day. Don’t leave it open-ended. Cancer patients make zillions of decisions every day, deciding what you should do shouldn’t be one of them. Help them out by giving them a direction.
• Don’t be offended if we don’t want to talk about our health. It’s not that we don’t think you’re close enough to have this information, it’s just that we’re marinating in the whole cancer experience, and probably too exhausted to talk about it.
• If you’re making a visit, call first. Don’t just “pop over.” We may be too nauseated to stand, or too depressed to interact in that moment.
• Be there. Be a friend. Take our lead. We’ll never forget it.