May 11

Social Niceties and the Etiquette of Cancer

My friends all have some of the same traits in common: they tend to be crafty (no, not all), almost all of them enjoy wine, and snarkyness is a MUST. I don’t mince my words and I don’t surround myself with people who do either. But when you have cancer and you are open and vocal about it, everyone wants to talk to you about it, it goes with the territory. The problem is: I don’t abide by the Social Contract that only nice, polite things should be said to the Cancer Patient (or any patient for that matter, no matter the disease)

If you have 10 min, I urge you to read this article called The Etiquette of Cancer. However, if you don’t have 10 min to spare, let me give you my own bullet-point version, thoughts I have had over the last few weeks and months:

  • ‘My sister’s neighbour’s dog-walker’s cousin had the SAME thing and she is totally fine now’ OR ‘My mother’s 3rd cousin’s housekeeper had finger-cancer… she passed away’. The first thing they tell you in oncology: EVERYONE’s CANCER IS DIFFERENT. I understand that you want to ‘share’ my cancer with me, but 1 in 4 women have breast cancer – it’s really NOT special. I have my own experiences, my own MOTHER died of it. So thanks, but I’ll stick to people I actually know (if you yourself have gone through it, different story all together. But then again, I don’t need to tell you that, because you already know to reach out privately and have probably done so already)
  • ‘You look great!’ (said in sing-song valley-girl cheery voice). No I don’t. I might not look like I’m a death’s door, but I don’t look great. I look OK. Maybe I look better than ok that particular day, but I don’t look great. My shoes are great though, so compliment me on that.
  • ‘What are you numbers? What drugs are you on?’ – If you are planning on becoming an oncologist, I’d love to go over these details with you. Otherwise, can we just stick to I’m on my 1st, 2nd, 3rd treatment. OK, txs
  • You were SO UPSET when you heard I had cancer – Thank you. Very much. Really, thank you. But I have enough with dealing with my emotions, and my husband and kid’s emotions, and then my dad and brother’s. So I’ll leave you to deal with your emotions yourself.
  • It’s ok to NOT TALK ABOUT CANCER. Really. It’s totally ok. I can talk about the weather, or the Habs sucking ass, or knitting (I can talk about knitting ALL DAY!) – I promise you, it’s totally ok to talk about non-cancer related topics
  • It’s ok NOT to talk to me – here’s the thing: sometimes, you don’t want to talk to me. That’s ok. I don’t need to talk to you either. It could be nice, but it could be forced, and I have very little energy. So if you happen to see me somewhere, it’s totally ok to say Hi and just keep going. Think about it this way: If I didn’t have cancer, would you talk to me? No? Then now is probably not the right time to start.

Boy, I sound bitter and angry, don’t I? Here is the thing: I’m a snarky, bitchy, foul-mouthed person when I’m on my BEST behaviour. I’m not a social-butterfly who air-kisses and chit-chats for the heck of it. Add to this: Cancer, Chemo, No Boobs, Ugly Hair and Lack of Sleep and now, I’m a real bitch, all the time. So I have no time or energy to start being nice now.

I am OVERWHELMED by the genuine kindness and support that I have been getting. Muffin and soup drop-offs, impromptu playdates, help with the auction – I appreciate more than I will EVER be able to thank you for. I REALLY REALLY do. But please remember that I am also hurting. It’s not easy. I have to channel my energy to do simple things like walking NJ to school or going for ice tea down the street. I have to put on my metaphorical armour to get these things done. So I don’t want to be nice just because it makes it easier for you.

Instead, how about:

  • I like that hat, it hides your bad haircut quite well
  • That dress is super cute, it goes well with your greenish hue
  • How many seasons of Charles in Charge did you watch today?
  • I was supposed to go to the gym today, but I figured, my ass is hard enough, want to go have ice cream instead?
  • Lung Transplant last year, Cancer this year – what’s on deck for next summer? Leprosy?

I promise you, I will respond much better to these!

1 comment

  1. kylk

    Great piece! For sure, people are often clueless in the face of facing other people’s health crisis. Hard not to feel umm . . . irked. Recall super-food guru David Wolfe suggesting (if impractically) following wild animals’ lead when recovering from illness. Hide. Helps to avoid expending energy needed to heal for one, he says.

    Some cancer survivors swear by “over-dosing on nutrition” to recover health — and good moods (in spite of the riff-raff) — with roots in the emerging field of Nutrigenomics — how whole, unprocessed foods contain data that turn human genes on-and-off — including “cancer-fighting genes” and anti-aging genes.

    Dr. Oz did a show on it with the doctors featured in the documentary “Forks Over Knives”. Carol Alt and Suzanne Somer’s cancer doc, Sloan-Kettering trained Nicholas Gonzalaz M.D,, discusses it and his protocol Enzyme Therapy. Dr. Oz regular and the Clinton’s doctor, Mark Hyman M.D., chats at length about it in his bestselling books, PBS, and TedMedx talks like this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghA66L0bm-g

    And popular blogger and (young) cancer survivor chrisbeatcancer.com interviews loads of cancer-survivors who’ve, like him, “overdosed” on whole, unprocessed foods/juicing in part, to heal.

    Whether whole, unprocessed foods can turn-on people’s insensitivity-fighting genes remains to be seen

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