How many times have you been in a situation where you desperately feel the urge to provide assistance or give advice? Or whereby you simply want to make someone feel better or solve their problems? I am guessing all of you have been in this predicament many times.
Well, cancer patients are on the receiving end of this on a daily basis – meaning they are often being given advice, being offered positive thinking speeches, and generally just being surrounded by people that want to help ‘fix’ what ails them.
Now having had cancer five times previously while now currently dealing with the mother of all cancers – metastatic cancer – I have been in this predicament one too many times. I have heard just about everything one can imagine.
Additionally, I have also had countless conversations with cancer patients (more like venting sessions) where stories of “things not to tell cancer patients” was the main topic. Yes, when cancer patients get together they often talk about you ‘non-cancer folks.’ And I have to say, there were so many comments that I agreed bothered me at one time or another.
However being a cancer-lifer, I have become immune to these comments. They don’t even phase me anymore. I have mastered the “polite nod” and the “subtle silence.”
I have come to accept and understand that often people just don’t know what to say, so instead of simply listening, they jump in with all sorts of advice and information. It is human nature in many cases to want to help and attempt to fix things, and I get this. But unfortunately many times the advice or comments tend to infuriate cancer patients.
We realize that people do not intentionally want to cause harm or piss us off, but nonetheless this ends up being the unintentional result many a time. This especially holds true for those recently diagnosed or facing metastatic/incurable cancers. These are very sensitive topics.
Whereas in my case, I have heard it all over the years. Nothing tends to shock me anymore. Plus, being told I have cancer is boring and getting a little old now, so I tend to tune a lot of the comments and advice out. Yes, that’s right guys, most of the time, I am not really listening….sorry. It is part of what helps keep me sane.
So given my experience, I can safely tell you guys (the non-cancer folk) that sometimes..most times, it’s best just to listen. We understand and appreciate the well-intentioned advice, we truly do, but we do not always want to hear it.
For instance when you tell someone with cancer “that if they think positive, they can beat cancer,” many times this hits a serious nerve. Although positivity is wonderful and I belive very strongly in a positive mindset (that it can have a beneficial impact on our health), sometimes those with cancer cannot think positively at that given moment. And because of their anger, their ailing health and overall frustration, this comment triggers this type of response from a cancer patient “so does this mean that everyone that died of cancer did not think positively, did they die from a bad attitude?” No, not so much.
This is just one comment that tends to hit a soft spot for many cancer patients. I have a whole list, if anyone is interested.
And trust me, with time and experience, most people tend to deal with their diagnosis and situation better, so some advice and certain comments tend to have minimal impact and are taken with a lighthearted attitude . But everyone is unique.
Despite being indifferent to certain stories, advice, or comments regarding cancer and my diagnosis, one comment that is still a huge pet peeve of mine is when someone tells me that I should not focus on death or worry about dying as anyone can get hit by a bus at anytime. Alas, the notorious proverbial bus.
Now, I understand the hidden meaning behind this comment, but seriously guys, it’s not my favourite thing to hear. I actually can’t stand it.
For starters, I am dealing with trying not to die from cancer, now you guys are telling me that I could also get hit by the proverbial bus too. Another potential killer for me to worry about, thanks guys. This is just peachy! But the main reason I hate this comment is because logically and statistically speaking, the odds and probability of getting hit by a bus are extremely low (and chances of dying from it are even statistically more improbable). However, the odds of the “Big C” killing me are pretty high especially given that 1 in 4 Canadians will die from cancer, that’s about 214 deaths each day, not to mention that I already have metastatic cancer! So please, for the love of mankind, do not compare chances of dying from cancer to being hit by the proverbial bus. It doesn’t make me feel better, it actually makes me crazy. And you don’t want me crazy, trust me. I know what you guys mean about the purpose of life, living in the moment, and being mortal, yada yada, yada, but it’s still my least favourite cancer comment ever. I am actually a little annoyed right now just thinking about it.
Sometimes just listening is the right thing to do. And often no advice can be the best advice. Or in my case, you can bombard me with all the advice you want, as chances are, I am probably not listening anyway 😉
Health, love, and the art of listening.