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12 THINGS NEVER TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS/HAD CANCER:
1. “That’s a good cancer to have.”
There are no good cancers. There are definitely some which respond better to treatment than others, and I’m allowed to observe that as the patient, but you are not.
Please don’t tell me how lucky I am. I may not be in the humour to hear that.
2. “Cancer isn’t as hard as it used to be.”
That’s funny, because it felt pretty tough this morning when I was lying on the bathroom floor weeping over a bowel movement.
3. “I’ve always wanted to shave my head.”
Losing your hair to chemo is not the same as shaving your head because you thought Natalie Portman looked cool in V for Vendettta.
4. “You look like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta!”
No, I don’t.
5. “We didn’t think you’d be up for it.”
Don’t assume we’re not able to do things just because we have cancer. Keep inviting us to stuff. Sometimes we won’t be up to it, but sometimes we will, and we desperately need to leave the house.
6. You’re so brave.”
We know you mean well when you say this, but we don’t feel brave. Bravery is something that happens when someone chooses to take on something scary. We don’t have a choice.
7. “Have you tried…?”
Unless you have a piece of advice so stellar that you think we literally can’t go on without it, please don’t make suggestions about our treatment. Yes, eating kiwis may be an effective way of combating constipation in your everyday life, but if the industrial-strength medical-grade laxatives an actual doctor has prescribed for me aren’t working, then adding more fruit to my diet probably won’t either.
8. “If anyone can beat this, you can.
”Because people who die as a result of cancer didn’t fight hard enough?
9. “Remember, there’s always someone worse off than you.”
10. “I know how you feel.”
No, you don’t.
11. “At least you’ll have loads of free time now.”
I am not on holiday. I have taken time off work because dealing with cancer is literally a full-time job.
12. “Congratulations! You’re done!”
It’s not necessarily over just because we’ve had our last scheduled bit of chemo or radiation. Reaching the end of treatment can be a really scary time, so let me tell you when I’m ready to celebrate.
…So what should you say?
“I don’t really know what to say.”
It’s OK for you to be honest about how you’re feeling. We don’t expect you to be an expert in dealing with this really tough situation.
“I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
Sometimes a simple acknowledgement that things are a bit rubbish right now really helps.
“Do you need a lift home from chemo?”
Specific offers of help are much better than general “I’m here if you need me” type statements. We’ll actually take you up on them, and they will genuinely make a difference.
“Have you seen…?”
Film and TV recommendations are invaluable for days when we can’t get off the sofa and feel like we’ve exhausted Netflix.