Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Top 10 Most Annoying Things People Say About Cancer

Inspired by a recent Huffington Post article by Nancy Stordahl of Nancy's Point (note my tech-savvy use of linkage only took me like 15 minutes), here are my personal TOP TEN annoying things people say about cancer. About metastatic cancer. To cancer patients.  I may not get to 10, and they may not be in true rank order, because ranking things really taxes my need to get things absolutely right. Absolutely correct.

In true Letterman style, let's start with number 10:

10. Anything with the words CURE, POSITIVE, or ATTITUDE, or BRAVE.

9. "You look GREAT!" ( it the surprise in their voices, or ignorance to the effects of cosmetics?)

8. "Being overweight caused your cancer." (Okay, no one has said this to my face, but I've read it plenty enough times!)

7. "Oh, you're on chemo?" (...while looking suspiciously at my hair.)

6. "You should eat ____,  and stop eating ____." (cure implied)

5. "Oh, this (obscure) doctor (of whom no one has ever heard or written) has a CURE and you just have to follow his protocol and buy his $400 machine! You should check out his website!" (...please never speak to me again.)

3 & 4. "You're not still dealing with cancer are you? When does your treatment end?" (special zingers for those with metastatic cancer)

2. "Cancer is a Gift" (...well I hope someone saved the receipt!) Thank you, Nancy, for writing this.

And the #1 most annoying thing I absolutely hate being told...

1. "Any of us could go at any time." (cousin to the Hit by a Bus scenario. and the topic of the rant that's been swirling in my head for weeks, the segue to which is the real purpose of this list.)

So what do you hate hearing about your cancer?


Meg said...

I have the most trouble with "survivor" and "You are my hero." I am just trying to put on foot in front of the other and hang on. I don't feel like a hero!

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Meg, How could I leave "survivor" off my list! Ugh. Hero is up there with "you are so brave"...hard to stomach with a smile!

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Anonymous said...

My sister beat cancer,she survived it,she is a survivor as opposed to a victim of the most god awful evil thing in the world.Cancer makes people stronger when they beat it making them my hero, I will not apologize for thinking cancer survivors have a little more balls than the rest of us.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Annonymous @ 1:11, I "survived" cancer. Once. More accurately, I survived three different chemos, surgery and radiation. And actually, it can take years to fully recover from all that. I don't consider myself stronger. A little beaten down by the system if anything.

But the cancer wasn't really gone, and a rogue cell decided to start trouble again, not even three yrs later.

I am glad your sister is currently cancer free, or, more correctly, showing no evidence of disease (NED), and I truly hope she remains that way. If she ever has a recurrence, or, G_d forbid, metastasis, will she no longer be a hero to you? Will she be immediately neutered of those extra balls?

Am I less strong, did I not fight hard enough, do I lack courage and balls because my cancer came back?

Can you see how the "survivor" label chafes a bit for some of us?

Admire your sister for surviving treatment and getting on with life. Pray that the cancer never returns. Obviously most of your info on cancer comes from the feel-good likes of the Komen folks. But no apology needed.

You probably won't enjoy my blog much as it's rarely "feel-good", never candy-coated and always honest about how cancer and returning cancer really feels.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

The Accidental Amazon said...

One of my top ten is when someone who has had cancer & cancer treatment says that cancer has made them a better person. Frankly, I thought I was a pretty decent person before I had cancer. I also think such remarks point up a need for some remedial grammar. Cancer is a disease. You can choose how you respond to a calamity like having cancer, and maybe by your response, you will demonstrate your inner fortitude. But the cancer itself doesn't make you anything but sick and usually scared out of your mind.

Another favorite remark occurred when I was seeing my surgeon for a follow up visit after suffering with massive fatigue for months. Crying, I told her what was going on and that I needed something to help me. 'Well, what do you want me to do about it, Kathi?' she had the temerity to respond. Oh, I dunno, I thought. Maybe act like a freakin' doctor??

xoxo, Kathi

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Kathi, It is very aggravating when your doctors can't decide who should treat which symptom. Grrrr.

Food for thought...was/is my inner fortitude fortitudinous enough?

Thank you for commenting! Row On!

Nancy's Point said...

Hi Shelli,
How did I miss this post? I find so many "cancer comments" annoying, but I probably agree with Kathi. I hate it when people say something that implies a person is a better person because of her cancer diagnosis. OMG! This was actually a topic at a support group meeting I attended once. I know I'm not a better person. In fact, some might think the exact opposite. Ha.

Nancy's Point said...

Hi again,
And pardon my manners. Thank you very much for the mention. I appreciate it!

KOB said...

Awesome! I think you hit 'em all.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Thanks Nancy! Yep, if cranky and tired is a better person, then perhaps I am...NOT! I still haven't written the one swirling around in my head.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

KOB,thanks for commenting and reading! Surely you have even one more you can add to the list... ;-)

Holly G said...

One that I didn't see on your list is "fighting a courageous" battle--or even worse, succumbed to a courageous battle. Most times I don't feel courageous, heroic or like fighting--just tired. I have already made it certain that this will no longer be said to me or be put in my obituary.
Save it for the truly courageous battlers out there, like our military, the fire fighters and the police.

Anonymous said...

Man, I'm glad my dad wasn't as bitchy and ungrateful, as many of you sound, when he was dying of cancer. It's not like I took a class on how to speak with your dying father. I guess, luckily, my dad didn't take any offense when I said something that may have sounded dumb and stupid. Maybe he was just smart enough to know that I cared and I was hurting inside and didn't know exactly how to deal with it all. I like to think that he cared more about the fact that I was there talking and spending time with him. After listening to all you guys bitch it just makes me want to fear and walk around on tiptoes next time I am around somebody living with cancer for fear that I might say something as ridiculous as, "try and stay positive". Now I'll just go back to my life and keep my mouth shut.....

Tara said...

Hooray for another cancer person who doesn't sugar coat what it's like to live with this craptacular disease!

btw, the other one that sucks; "I knew someone who had cancer and they died".

and I even had one of my Oncologists say "well, it could be worse; you could be dead".

Erm; thanks :/.

laurie said...

"Am I less strong, did I not fight hard enough, do I lack courage and balls because my cancer came back?

Can you see how the "survivor" label chafes a bit for some of us?"

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You nailed it.

ButDoctorIHatePink said...

So, I have mets to my liver. Survivor isn't appropriate for me. Hate that.

Brave isn't appropriate. Brave people have a choice and do what they are afraid of anyway - I have no choice.

I hate when people tell me that "sugar feeds cancer" because it's BS, first of all and second, after 3 years of chemo, all I seem to be able to eat is cake and so it's cake or weigh 90 pounds.

I hate when people impose their religion on me. I had a stranger tell me to think about her on my deathbed and remember to call out to God. Um, I hope I'm not thinking about somebody I never met during my last minutes. And, whether I call out to God or not is personal and not something a stranger should be saying.

People have all sorts of advice for us. It gets weirder as you become metastatic, which is why we get more insular. But as we can't work, can't go out, our worlds get smaller so we don't hear it as much.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Holly G - I usually get eye rolls when I talk about what I insist can and cannot be done at my funeral, or said in an obit! I feel an immediate connection to you! Thank you.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Tara & Laurie, thank you so much! Thank you for understanding, and for sharing that you feel validated by this!

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Ann, thank you so much for reading and commenting! I feel special that you stopped by. ;-)

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Anonymous@11:14, Gosh thanks for reading my blog that seriously isn't speaking to you. I'm sure that your words meant a lot more to your father,coming from his daughter, than hollow platitudes from virtual strangers who know nothing of his day to day struggles.

You know, I really don't write/blog on the days when I feel fine. I find I write when I am NOT having a great day, or when something has festered for a while.

Telling someone to stay positive is hollow and meaningless. A positive attitude will not cure cancer, but it does make it nicer for those who DON'T HAVE the cancer...and I refuse to live my life to make it more comfortable for those around me who really don't understand how I feel or what I am going through.

I'm sorry your father died of cancer. It is a horrible way to to go, a way that is in my future. I hope you never have to experience what it is like to be a woman in your 30's or 40's diagnosed with cancer, to have your life detoured in that way.

Tip-toe around someone with a cancer diagnosis? No. But maybe you should have the sensitivity to take some suggestions about what hurts to hear and what helps.

Kristan said...

I hate that we are not allowed to hate having cancer! And, that if we are truly brave by speaking the truth about what this illness really does to our lives that we get branded as "bitchy". What is truly brave is taking the risk to speak the truth knowing it may make others even more uncomfortable with a subject that makes others already so uncomfortable that there is tremendous cultural pressure to either ignore the victims of cancer, blame them for being sick, or create a insanely sugar coated sexy facade. I embrace the title of brave when I speak the truth about cancer vs. merely having cancer. Would love to know more brave people who can "handle the truth " (what's the name of that movie)?

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Thank you, Kristan! I like that acceptance of the 'brave' label...brave enough to speak our truth!

Lara said...

I always hated when I told someone that I had cancer, their first response was: "Oh, my aunt had that. She's dead."

Gee, thanks. I mean, not that I wasn't aware of the fact that my cancer can kill me, but a stark reminder sure always made my day.

I actually had someone try to one-up my cancer diagnosis when I told her. Her reaction, "My doctor thinks I might have cervical cancer!" I was stunned. I just told her I *definitely* had cancer and here she was trying to steer the conversation back to her. SMH.

Jo said...

It's not the comments I hate. It's the "Oh, you're so (brave, amazing, strong, positive, inspiring)" LOOKS you get.

Also, the way people look straight at my chest when they hear I've had cancer (NED now). It wasn't my boobs that tried to kill me, dude. It was my mouth. GAH.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

No one has ever said the "[blank]had cancer, but she's dead" thing to me...but I've heard of people hearing it! And the one-upping is ridiculous! Seems there is a personality type that just HAS to do that, has to be the worst off, the sickest. (I worked for one such person at one time!)

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

How frustrating! Why do people assume that if a woman had cancer, it was breast cancer? I think we have the Komen foundation to thank for that, in large. I really see how women with other cancer hate "Pinktober" as much as I do.

And the LOOKS! Just rude. And along the line of looks: The friend I had muffins with this week observed that, while we both have had stage IV cancer for about 3 yrs, we look fairly fine, so no one thinks twice. Since she lost her hair again, she's been getting the looks; the pity looks, the concern looks, and people have ACTED more politely to her! Sometimes I feel that the people closest to me forget I even have cancer. "Shave your head", she told me.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

And wasn't I (brave, amazing, strong, positive, inspiring) for the last 19 years as a single mother dragging herself to work and supporting/raising a child? Really, THAT was amazing and praise-worthy. As a cancer patient, I'm really pretty passive in my efforts.

Anonymous said...

I can totally understand that there are always words that will get on your nerves when people same them. No matter what your situation. And you always need to be able to vent, which is the great thing about blogging! BUT, also can you put in the things that you WOULD like to hear? What DO I say to someone in your situation? You pretty much listed everything that comes to mind as what NOT to say. Maybe they don't feel good (understandably) coming from a stranger. But when I tell my sister that she is my hero, it is b/c I mean it. Some people take cancer as a death sentence and refuse to fight. I can see how that would be a simple solution. But not her, she fights it. Just waking up in the morning can be difficult. She could chose to lay there in bed and not fight, but she doesn't, making her brave in my book. If you are not passively allow the cancer to control your life, then you ARE fighting a battle, one for your life, and if you win that battle, you ARE a hero.

Positivity and your mental state goes a LONG way in successful treatment of any disease, not just cancer. The film, The Cure Is... would be an excellent film for anyone to watch to see the huge role a positive attitude can play in your health. While everyone has a right to have bad days, and everyone will have negative emotions, it's good to get them out and then focus on the positive ones. Release the negativity and forget about it.

Also, to the one who said sugar does not feed cancer. It absolutely, 100% does. Many studies have proven that it does. There is a reason that they inject you with sugar before a scan to locate cancer. It goes straight to the cells, feeding them so they can detect their activity.

Rest assured that although you hate the things that people say, they are *usually* just trying to identify with you, not just say some lame thing from the Cancer 101 text book. I hope that each one of you that does have cancer live a long and strong, healthy life :)

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Dear Anonymous@11:05,
The beginning and end of this last comment had me sitting up and getting on board. Tell me your first name, I'd love to make a new blog post about what we WANT to hear. I'm not the first to address this. I've read lists of what to say and not to say to cancer patients.

The middle part of your comment, however, had me just about tearing my freaking hair out in frustration. Which tells me that I really don't need to make myself address it.

At the end of your first paragraph you said, "and if you win that battle, you ARE a hero". I could write a whole page on that phrase alone. But other better writers than I have devoted entire articles to it, so just let me ask, did you read my next post? Did you realize that my blog is about having Stage IV, Metastatic cancer? Do you even realize what that means? IF I win that battle? Yes, the IF is what should have capitalized emphasis. By "winning the battle" do you mean being cured of cancer? Not dying from cancer? Because for those of us with metastatic cancer, the IF statements are now WHEN statements. WHEN cancer kills me. By your definition, I am indeed NOT a hero, because cancer is going to kill me. And that's not negative,that's realistic.

I'm so frustrated with your myopic view right now, I can no longer even counter or be polite. So I'd better stop. Stick your head back in the happy sand and carry on with your platitudes. Thanks again for reading, and actually, thanks for checking back after commenting.

donna peach said...

Thanks for writing honestly about the comments we get. One I would like to contribute is about beating it--either telling me how I'm going to beat it (usually this is part of the "positive attitude" comment) or how the person has beat breast cancer and knows I can do it, too.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...

Oh Donna...that just makes me GROAN!

Thank you for reading! I think of you and send good vibes often.

Leslie Shawan said...

I am so confused by some of the things which are off-limits.

What is wrong with saying "You look GREAT" to someone?

Or calling someone a survivor? People who went to war and return are called survivors. People who die are casualty. Survivor and casualty are not derogatory terms-simply descriptions of a state.

Or brave? Someone who can participate in a daily faceoff with death and not go insane is courageous.

My sister has cancer (16 years now). It came and went twice. To our family, she is brave, she looks great (even in a turban and emaciated) and she is a SURVIVOR (just a fact), so far.

She is our Hero and the best human being on the face of this earth. She is our philosopher. Our children\nieces\nephews (ignore us)go to her for advice and words of wisdom during bad times in their lives. They view her as a sage or 'wise woman'.

I, myself, have learned so much from watching her terrible struggles with this killer. She has taught me to appreciate Life and to reassess my values and to work on my trivial, petty mind.

So like I said, she IS our Hero, our Survivor and the Brave and Courageous One. And we are not going to stop saying so.

The Dirty Pink Underbelly said...


I have no mental strength left to address this with you. Read the comments. If your sister likes being called those things, good for her and carry on.

I personally do not like them. I think the title of the post clearly stated that these were MY top 10 things. Not yours. Not everyone else's. I am too tired to try to convince you of my opinion, as I am still recovering from having a rod put in my femur because of cancer in the bone that put me at risk of a break. I very bravely screamed at the top of my lungs at the pain when they made me move after the surgery. I very courageously cried in my hospital bed. Cancer sucks, and I'm telling my truth, like Kristan said.

You are welcome to your own truth. It just does not match mine.

Anna said...

First of all, I'm not a cancer patient. However, I can see why people wouldn't like to be called survivors or heroes.
Most of the time, people are disarmed when faced with other people's pain or hardships. Instead of saying "I don't know what to say or to do, to help you", they go with platitudes or worse project their own fears. Whenever they open their mouths, they aren't talking to the cancer patient but to themselves if they were a cancer patient. That's not empathy at all.
Good for you if the person is a survivor or a hero to YOU but it is not about you! The mere fact that some commenters are disappointed/angry to read cancer patients venting about their condition is proof to me that they do not care about knowing what's really going on. If you aren't ready to hear that you're hurting people no matter how well-intended you mean to be, how the hell are you being there for that person in that difficult time? Also, what's up with looking for other people to be your heroes? What don't you be your own hero for having the balls to endure some part of people's pain by allowing that person to not be stoic in order to assuage your worry?

Anonymous said...

I think when people snivel "Cancer sucks" in annoying facebook passive-aggressive notes threatening "you'll burn in hell and you LOVE cancer if you don't share this/curing cancer can be as easy as spamming facebook" BS, they need to be hit with a piano. Saying something "sucks" somehow trivializes and mocks it, the same way you wouldn't call god "My big daddy" or something cutesy. It's a nasty disease, and no "fuck cancer" or "this sucks" makes it better.