June 14, 2011

I have cancer, not a paper cut

I recently read an opinion piece in the New York Times about some of the things people who aren't sick say to people who are.

You should read the article, but here is a summary of what the author disliked and why.

1. "What can I do to help?" This puts the burden back on the person with cancer to come up with something.

2. "My thoughts are prayers are with you." Overused.

3. "Did you try the mango colonic I recommended?" Something that saved your Uncle Tom won't work on me.

4. "Everything will be okay." You're not a doctor or fortune teller.

5. "How are we today?" I'm an adult, speak to me like one.

6. "You look great." Leave the idea of how we think we look to us.

I had mixed feelings about this article. I also shudder when people say 1 and 2. I haven't experienced 5. And I don't have a problem with 3 and 6 because I like hearing things people have tried, and because I worked out from an early age that I was easy on the eye.

Then there is Number Four

Number Four is an interesting one. I feel there is a real role for this kind of blind optimism - it balances the statistics and raw truths you hear from specialists. It restores that sense of "Yeah, maybe everything can be alright in the end". Hearing this phrase can pull you out of a funk, put a bounce in your step or bring a smile to your face.

I began incorporating positive affirmations into my daily life almost immediately after my diagnosis. Little signs in my house can be found exclaiming 'Each day I am stronger' and 'I heal quickly and without complications'. I treat Number Four as a sort of unsolicited positive affirmation.

It wasn't always that way

At the beginning I would burn on the inside when people said Number Four, especially if earlier they had had to check with me what type of cancer I had (You've got stomach cancer right?). I saw red when hit with what I felt were completely unfounded and unintelligent assessments of my complicated cancer.

I would smile, but inside yell: I have C-A-N-C-E-R, not a paper cut!

I now understand that when people say Number Four they don't actually know, but they are hoping - and that is a damn nice thing to hear. They want you to be okay. They want you to be alright. They want you around in 12 months time.

While I am not personally comfortable saying Number Four to people who have cancer, I do like it when people say it to me. So keep it up.

Just ask someone what they like people to say and say it.

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