5 Questions not to ask someone diagnosed with Cancer and the best question to ask them.
5 Questions not to ask someone diagnosed with Cancer.
Dealing with Cancer is hard. Let alone talking about it. 4 days after my first chemo treatment I couldn't even talk about anyting that had to do with Cancer. I told everyone to ask me how my FIGHT was going and that I would talk to them about whatever I felt I needed to talk about.
It get's draining.
I have a great support system, from my girlfriend to her immediate family (all within 15 minutes of us) to her extended family (all within 15 minutes of us) to my family and friends (further away but I still talk to them weekly). All in total I have at least 20 people that are supporting me through my treatment.
It’s amazing! However, there is often a mix of emptions I feel. Sometimes I feel sad because I am putting my loved ones through this. Often times I feel grateful that I have so many people that care so much about me. And sometimes…I feel annoyed. Not at them per se, more at how ignorant they are, and as I often say – “ignorance is not a reason to get angry at someone.”
For real...someties it's irritating.
And, it’s not their fault they don’t know something, who does research on cancer that isn’t intimately interested in it? The average person has NO IDEA what a cancer patient goes through, and since each patient goes through their journey slightly different, there’s a lot to know.
So it's not ignorant that they don't know something they should know, it's simply ignorant - as in the act of not knowing something.
I want to share with you the 5 questions NOT to ask someone diagnosed with cancer and/or going through treatment.
Question 1 – “How’s it going?”
Um…I have cancer, it’s going awful.
How the F#CK do you think its going? On a given week my entire life is totally up in the air. I may be called in to the hospital for additional tests based on blood screens. I might have to go in because there were complications with one of my procedures. I might need to stay a few hours past when I was supposed to leave because the doctor might be running behind, they might want new tests performed and they can get me in that day…or I might have eaten cashews before one of my procedures (make sure you listen to them!).
Better question – “At what state of treatment are you in?”
Question 2 – “How you feeling?”
Like shit. Hello…..cancer. Based on what I have read, it’s pretty rare you feel great going through treatment or having cancer. Maybe you don’t have any physical symptoms, but you sure as hell have emotional symptoms and mental symptoms. Most of which revolve around three questions:
“Am I going to die?”
“What’s my likely outcome?”
“How does this affect my loved ones?”
I feel like ass. Sometimes. Sometimes I feel great…kind of.
This is how I feel. Stunned.
Better question – “How are you feeling TODAY?” Bonus points if you can incorporate treatment in – “How are you feeling after your bone biopsy?”
Question 3 – “What type of cancer do you have?”
Like you know? What are you some kind cancer researcher? No…I didn’t think so. Oh, you know someone that went through cancer? Ok, I understand that you are trying to sympathize with me and attempting to find some ground to engage in conversation. But, just because you knew someone that went through cancer, does not mean that you know cancer. Here are two things to think about:
1. There are a HUGE number of different cancers that you can have as well as stages. The type and stage determine the treatment, outcome and “side effects” (such an awful name for shit that will most likely happen to you…that’s what they should call it. Side effects are things that sometimes happen, cancer treatment side effects will most likely happen to you.). For instance, Lymphoma is broken down into two main types, Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s. Both of these are then broken down into more sub-types and some sub-types are then broken down into a further classification, then you have the stage of those types. Each sub-type might have similar treatment plans or not.
2. Based on the book “Tripping over the truth” - re
Better question – Don’t ask, unless you know A LOT about cancer and can talk openly and freely about it. This question is seldom asked and it’s usually followed up with some kind of silence and “oh shit”, “that sucks”, “FUCK” or something along those lines. The hard truth is this – You really don’t want to know what type of cancer. It’s going to make you feel awkward for asking and you are not emotionally or intellectually (not in a bad way, just in the way that a child is not emotionally capable of talking about death in a constructive way) capable of talking about it.
This is akin to asking how someone died – does it matter?
Question 4 – “How are you doing?”
Again…CANCER. I am not doing great, that’s for sure. This question is very similar to #1. How am I doing?
“Well…yesterday I lactated out of the incision that they put a drainage tube in after my biopsy. It was a super odd feeling. Jamie got freaked out. Like, I was literally lactating out of the side of my chest. No pain, but there was clear warm fluid shooting out of my body and running down my leg. Jamie almost threw up…it was somewhat comical. I realized this AFTER I frantically called the surgeon on call thinking I was bleeding internally and I was going to die”
For real...what do you say to this?
What are you going to say to that?
Better question – “How are you doing TODAY?”
Question 5 – “How is (girlfriend, wife, husband, boyfriend, dad, mom, etc.) doing/handling this?”
“Well…they are super happy that they might be able to cash in the life insurance policy if I kick the bucket. It should cover almost all of the $100,000.00+ MEDICAL BILLS I have accrued.” Said no one ever. Truth – I haven’t even started chemo yet and my medical bills are already at over $65,000.00.
Better question – ok, let’s be honest with each other. There are no better questions to ask then any of those. I put the “better questions” into this article because I wanted you, the reader, to have an alternative question to ask. There aren’t any. If you are a loved one, then you will be informed on a daily/weekly basis how everything is going. If you are not a loved one, its ok, we as human beings only have so much space in our hearts for loved ones, but, you probably won’t hear a lot about what’s going on. I don’t like to constantly talk about my journey through cancer, every day, with new people, where I have to regurgitate the same conversation over and over again.
The best question you can ask someone going through chemo is "How's the Fight?". I have been in fights before, lots of fights. I know how to fight. I know that when you enter a fight, the winner is loosely determined by the person that takes the least amount of damage. Chemo and cancer are no different of a fight. But, read these words -
It is a FIGHT. From the first day of chemo to every day after that, you will get hit by different things every day and no two days will be the same. Prepare your self. Create that mental fortress in side of your own soul and mind that you can go to when things get bad. When you feel like your losing the fight.
A fight is loss when one person is declared a winner. To lose in this battle means you pay the ultimate sacrifice. So what ever you have to tell your self - you do not lose this fight and you FIGHT EVERY DAY.
So, ask some one how's the fight going. What ever aspects of the fight they want to talk about, they will bring it up.
And…a bonus statement – “It could be worse.”
Yes…I suppose it could be worse…but…why say that? Of course it could be worse! I think this is generally said by someone who doesn’t know what else to say and they are trying to be optimistic. Please – you don’t need to be optimistic for me, I’ll be optimistic enough.
Here’s the bottom line – people care about people. Genuinely. When someone you know is going through a hard time, you want to reach out to them and see how they are doing, if there anything you can do or might be able to do and just generally say “Hey, I care about you because I am asking about you.”
But, understand that dealing with cancer is not the same as dealing with anything else. So please, put yourself into their shoes – would you want to talk about it all the time?