10 Things You Shouldn’t Say

I came across this article last month, and I want to share the content I feel is most applicable.

Title: 10 Things not to say to someone when they’re ill
Author: Deborah Orr
Originally published: The Guardian on 18 April 2012.

1. “I feel so sorry for you.”  Uh, thanks?  Being the object of your pity won’t make me feel better.  Instead, try this: “I wish you didn’t have to go through this.” or “It really sucks that you have to deal with this.”

2. “If anyone can beat this, it’s you.”  So many of my darling friends have said this.  And I know you mean well.  You think that you are telling me how strong I am.  But it’s not comforting to think of my medical illness like a dragon I must slay, and that if I fail it is only due to my own shortcomings.  Please realize that the last thing I need is guilt that if I’m not doing well it somehow reflects on who I am as a person.

3. “You’re looking well.”  This one is tricky.  Again, something that would normally be a niceness feels different when you’re ill.  First, you’re probably lying.  And if you’re not, the last thing I want to know is how well I’m hiding my own personal hell.  If I want your opinion on my appearance, I’ll ask.

4. “You’re looking terrible.”  Well, at least you’re being honest now.  But if I want to comment and poke fun at my blotchy skin or cankles, let me take the lead.

5. “Let me know the results.”  I’ve been guilty of this with my own ill friend.  But the last thing I want when waiting for soul-crushing life and death news is the obligation to update (even my closest) friends as soon as possible.  I will talk when I’m ready, and fortunately for my friends, that’s usually pretty quickly.  It does help, however, when you offer to spread bad news to others who may be anxiously awaiting.

6. “Whatever I can do to help.”  Everyone says it, but what does it really mean?  Instead, try “Can I take you to lunch and the yarn store on Tuesday?” or “Can I take your list and go grocery shopping for you this week?”  In turn, I need to be prepared to delegate.  Finally, please know that often I need help but don’t feel up to company.  It might feel one-sided if you just bought me groceries, but I don’t feel like chatting – you’ve been advised.

7. “Oh, no, your worries are unfounded.”  No one has ever said this to me.  But if you do, please be prepared to be punched square in the nose.

8. “What does ____ feel like?”  I don’t get this much.  And actually, I’m quite guilty of asking my cancer friends: what does chemotherapy feel like, what is it like when your port is accessed, etc.  If you are a cancer patient, scared and anxious, I’ll do my best to help answer your questions.  But if you are just curious, please ask the internet.  Again, if I want to talk about it, I’ll bring it up.

9. “I really must see you.”  Please don’t put it on me.  It’s fine, though, to say “May I stop by after work?” or “I have tickets to a play on Wednesday.  Tell me that day if you’re up to going”

10. “I’m so terribly upset about your condition.”  Me too.  Please remember this is not about you.  If you are too upset to see me, send a card, reply to my blog, send flowers or presents.  But please don’t add your anxiety about my condition to the boatload of things I’m already dealing with.

So that’s the list.  I’ve heard most of them, and I’ve certainly said most of them.  No worries, though, we can all do better moving forward.

The most important thing is that you show and tell me how much you love and support me.  And I love you all for it.

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7 responses to “10 Things You Shouldn’t Say

  • Denise Rowell

    This is a great reminder. We are guilty of number two on the list. We used to say this to my sweet dad all of the time! But imagine the pressure he must have felt! Thanks for posting.

  • gethealthynewjersey

    Great post, Jessica. So often people do not know ‘cancer etiquette’.

  • readytotell

    I think it’s just us “being human” that we say these things. We so want to help. In my case, I want to “fix” it, and we can’t.

    I respect everything you are saying and am learning a lot from you Jessica. Your blog has been so wonderful for me in that I feel such a connection to you in your writing. I hope you know that my replying to you is intended to show you that I do support you. I am a Mother.

  • Bella's mom, Debbie

    Thanks for posting this Jessica. When I went through chemo, I lost about 50 lbs. My favorite response from people was some form of, “Well, at least you get some weight loss out of the deal!!” WHAT? Are you really so insensitive to the dark circles under my eyes, my bald head, and my unbearable bone/muscle pain that you think I am happy about losing weight during this time? Until your own mortality is presented to you in the form of a cancer diagnosis, many aren’t sure what cancer etiquette looks like. Hugs to you my friend.

  • Jennifer Scheps

    So. so true. Thanks for posting! I just might have to borrow this! 😉

  • Julie

    Extraordinarily well said! Sending love to you & sweet Blossom 🙂

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