The polite title is “Things Not to Say to Cancer Patients.” The honest title is “Things I HATE Hearing as a Cancer Patient.” In all honesty and as a disclaimer, this is a challenging article to write simply because I’m trying hard to be polite while sharing what frustrates me a lot during my experience as a patient of Stage 3 Colon Cancer. So if I sound harsh, please allow me to use my “chemo moodiness” card to pardon myself.
“You should have (fill in the blank).”
This implies that I’ve done something wrong in the past. Firstly, we can’t change the past so why bother saying? Secondly, if doctors cannot pinpoint the exact cause of my diagnosis, how can you be so sure?
“You should (fill in the blank).”
Quoting from this The Guardian article that inspired this blog post, when you tell someone what they should do, “it is you unfairly shaming them for having failed at self-help, which isn’t even a thing.” “More importantly, when someone has had cancer for months or years – maybe living through hours of doctor appointments, days in hospitals and months in bed – don’t you think they’ve had time to consider every possible option with the seriousness their own mortality deserves?”
Insist their way of treatment or care.
If you’ve read my thoughts on chemotherapy prior to the treatment, you would have known how stressed up I was not just because I had to decide on a life and death matter for myself, but because there were people who wanted me to follow their course of treatment. The keyword here is “insist” — I’m totally OK if you are sharing what you know but when you insist me to follow your way, that’s crossing the line. Even my doctors do not insist on any treatment that I decide to undergo. They only recommend, at most, strongly recommend treatments for me. And they don’t go 20 minutes nagging me about what I should do.
Me: Is it compulsory for me to do chemotherapy?
Doctor: You better do it.
Me: What if I do not want to go through this?
Doctor: It’s your choice but I’d still recommend you to do it.
*Topic closed within 1 minute.*
The “truth” about cancer.
I get agitated when I see articles or videos claiming the truth about cancer, chemotherapy or whatever. “Truth” is a very big word. We can’t even tell truth and lie apart in day-to-day life. How can we say we have uncovered the “truth” about something as complex as the ever-evolving cancer? Well, if you say we’ve learned more about cancer, that’s a lot less ignorant and arrogant. I prefer people who are humble about their discoveries and achievements so when anyone claims to have uncovered the “truth,” just know that I become more skeptical.
“This is good for cancer according to (insert non-credible source).”
The internet is both a boon and a bane. A boon for making credible information more accessible. A bane for making non-credible information more accessible too. I think screening internet information for credibility is a skill that every internet user should have. When someone sends me information from sources that do not seem legit at all, I’m like “seriously?”. Of course, the encounter is made worse when coupled with any of these no-no things I’ve listed here.
I have no issue with the word “miracle” because I know of great things that happened without logical explanation. I may or may not have issue with the word “cure” when talking about cancer because with cancer, doctors normally use the word “remission” during the entire survivor-ship of cancer survivors rather than the word “cure”. I totally have issue when both these words are used together because it is simply telling me that you’re claiming something doctors do not normally claim even though you have no logical explanation to your claim. Not convincing and very annoying.
“Don’t worry. Hair will grow back.”
I hope you know that cancer is not one disease. According to Cancer Research UK, there are over 200 types of cancer. Colon cancer is often described as the silent and slow-growing cancer that is responsive to chemotherapy drug. The chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer happens to be less aggressive than many other cancer treatments too and that is why I’m not bald after completing 8 cycles (at the time of writing). However, I am experiencing bad hair fall and this worries me because it’s not common for my treatment. Minority of FOLFOX chemotherapy patients experience major hair fall and I do not like being the minority when it comes to sickness.
If you’re guilty of the above, don’t worry; we’re learning to be a better person together. Honestly, I have poor EQ when it comes to dealing with another person’s crisis, even after this Big-C.
On another note, let me get this straight. It’s OK to speak to me about my illness. It’s OK to ask me how I am feeling. It’s OK to share information; just don’t be arrogant, ignorant and pushy. And it’s great to share experience!
Lastly, this blog post is written based on my personal experience. I don’t know if other patients share the same sentiment. Feel free to share your thoughts so that I can know better.