Don’t Say…That!

by | Jun 9, 1998 | Comfort, Support

It is very hard to know what to say to someone when they have received a cancer diagnosis. Words seem so inept at a time like this; you feel like you should DO something.

I found out the hard way, by receiving a cancer diagnosis of my very own, just how much the words of others directly affect your attitude and emotions.

(A lack of words can be just as harmful. There are members of my extended family with whom I’ve exchanged birthday, Christmas, and anniversary cards. When word of my diagnosis got around through the family, I was CERTAIN I’d receive a Get Well or Thinking of You card from these family members. I never received anything).

After telling a very close friend of my diagnosis, she told me that my situation was just too depressing for her to deal with and I haven’t heard from her since.

When word of my having breast cancer began getting around at work, I was very disappointed in the reactions of others. One woman approached me and said, “I heard you have breast cancer.” I confirmed that this was true. She then replied, “Well, how bad IS it?” I just looked at her for a few seconds and finally said, “Isn’t one little SPECK bad enough?”

A co-worker was talking to me about it and asked (about the lump), “So, are they going to take IT out or take THAT (with a nod of her head towards my breast) off?”

A friend said, “Oh well. Look at it this way: You’ll have the best of both worlds — Dolly Parton on one side and Twiggy on the other.”

Another thing that was upsetting was people saying, “It’s no big deal anymore. They can do SO much these days.” I’m sorry, folks, but it was a VERY big deal to me. YOU go through three surgeries within five weeks and follow that with eight chemo treatments and see just how big of a deal it really is!

Overall, it appeared that the biggest concern from the majority of people at work was NOT my prognosis. They only seemed to be curious about whether or not I still had both breasts. It still makes me uncomfortable to walk into the cafeteria or the break area and notice that there are certain people who always glance at my chest.

At the time of my diagnosis my son was four years old. He is a “special needs” child. To be quite honest, I was more worried about HIM than I was myself at the time. But most people at work didn’t even stop to think about how my illness was affecting him. Again, they only seemed desperate to know if I still had both breasts. People that I barely know would ask me, “Did you have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy?” I would brush it off by saying, “Only my hairdresser knows for sure.”

Much to my surprise, I received more moral support from the men at work than from the women. They actually asked, “How are you?”; “Did they (the surgeon) get it all?”; “What’s your prognosis?”

After my chemo treatments were over and my hair started growing back, two different women at work asked, “Well, are you glad your hair is growing back?” Duh…..(here’s your sign).

There WERE a few people who were supportive of me and I’m very thankful for their presence during such a trying time. They have no idea how much their caring and concern was (and is) appreciated.

As for the rest of my co-workers, I can’t help but wonder: Are there thoughtless people all over the world or are they congregated within the company I work for?

If someone you knows receives a cancer diagnosis, please think before you speak. If you don’t know what to say, it’s better to say nothing about THAT subject than to say something that will be up- setting. A simple, “I’m here when you need me” means a lot!

Terri Davis k Davis Copyright 2000


Don’t Say…That!