15 Things Cancer Survivors Want Everyone To Know

15 Things Cancer Survivors Want Everyone To Know
Image: Twenty20

15 Things Cancer Survivors Want Everyone to Know

When the phone rang with news of my breast cancer diagnosis on January 6, 2014, I knew I had a tough road ahead. But I had no idea how much tougher it would be due to the constant fielding of awkward questions from friends and acquaintances -- or how painful the silence of some people I had thought would be there for me could be. While every cancer survivor's story is different (and the experience of battling cancer impacts everyone and their friends and family differently), I've found that certain questions or scenarios struck me the most. And when I've spoken with other cancer survivors, a lot of these same issues, questions, or scenes came up repeatedly for them when interacting with friends and family. Often, when someone gets cancer, they get lumped into a group of "people with cancer" and people say a lot of the same rote things that they've heard other people say.

These can be comforting, but they can also be really insensitive and silly -- and can assign some weird new attributes and motivations to people with cancer that are completely inappropriate or just ... wrong. For instance, people often want to tell me about all of the ways I could have given myself cancer, from using paraben-filled water bottles to certain moisturizers. But not only is that insensitive to say to a survivor, it's also pretty speculative (and in many cases, just plain wrong). The only thing that we know for sure caused my cancer are some rogue mutating genes. Bringing up anything past that isn't really helpful -- it's just going to feel like someone's trying to make me feel guilty. That said, as a survivor, I am all about people learning ways to learn about early detection. Knowing the early signs of ovarian cancer could help save a life, for example. It's also a good idea to be aware of the immunocompromised when considering our own choices if we're cancer-free. That's especially true when it comes to vaccinating children

  • Cancer Is Not Contagious

    Cancer Is Not Contagious

    It's OK to hug, kiss, or touch me (uh, assuming we have that kind of relationship). I won't break because of cancer. Please don't look at me like I'm one of those neglected puppies in that SPCA commercial with Sarah McLachlan.

  • I'm Still Me, But I've Changed, Too

    I'm Still Me, But I've Changed, Too

    It's not just because I'm thinner or heavier, or my hair is gone or is a shadow of its former self. I've been through it -- and I might be more cynical or even more hopeful. I probably can't explain the change, but know that I might seem different. The experience has given me a new perspective, which, for better or worse, kind of comes with the disease.

  • I'm Not Deeper, More Shallow, Smarter, or Dumber

    I'm Not Deeper, More Shallow, Smarter or Dumb

    However, my memory may be hazy. Chemo brain is real. Please forgive me if I've forgotten something kind that was done for me. I really do appreciate it, even if I don't write a note, call to say thanks, or necessarily remember it -- just trust that what was done during my difficult period, I'm grateful for.

  • I'm Not a Cancer Expert

    I'm Not a Cancer Expert, Except Maybe on My Cancer

    I can talk about my experience and share the names of my treatments and doctors, but please don't ask me for medical advice. Having one kind of cancer doesn't make me an expert on all cancers, and while I may have spent some time in a hospital, I'm not an expert on everything that goes on there. 

  • Don't Tell Me I Look Tired

    Don't Tell Me I Look Tired
    Please ask how I feel, but don't comment on my appearance (other than to say how fabulous I look -- especially if I look like I put some extra effort in today). It's never really polite to say anyone looks tired, but for someone with cancer, it's a little extra rude.
  • Don't Tell Me About Some New Wonder Drug

    Don't Tell Me About Some New Wonder Drug

    If it's on the market and it applies to me, my doctors will let me know. They went to school for this stuff, and I trust them. One size does not fit all with cancer, and often what we read about is a non-approved drug that, if it earns US Food and Drug Administration approval, won't be on the market in any kind of time frame that helps in my case.

  • Big Pharma Did Not Cause My Cancer

    Big Pharma Did Not Cause My Cancer or Exacerbate It

    My insurance company and doctors are not in on the plot to take me down, stuff me full of unnecessary drugs, or rob me of my savings. Conspiracy theories are not welcome here, and talking smack about a care team that has helped me immensely doesn't make me feel good.

  • I Don't Want to Hear Cancer Horror Stories

    I Don't Want to Hear Your Cancer Horror Stories
    I cannot emphasize this enough -- please talk to someone else about cancer horror stories or fears about cancer. Cancer survivors go through enough without hearing about this stuff -- we're trying to stay positive.
  • No, I Didn't Read About the Latest Celebrity Cancer Diagnosis

    No, I Didn't Read About the Latest Celebrity Cancer Diagnosis

    I might secretly spend from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. huddled under my covers falling into a Google rabbit hole of cancer websites and stories, but that's for me to do. If anyone else does it, that's cool, but I don't need to hear about what they've learned. Really.

  • Don't Ask If I'm Cured

    Don't Ask If I'm Cured

    Unless the goal is for me to burst into tears or throw up, don't ask if I'm cured, what the five-year survival rate is for the kind of cancer I have, or the stage of my diagnosis. Anyone who doesn't already know the answers to these questions probably isn't close enough for me to share this information with.

  • This Is What Happens If Folks Don't Get in Touch

    This Is What Happens If You Don't Get in Touch

    To anyone who was too freaked out to so much as call, text, email, stop by or otherwise get in touch when I was in the middle of it: Please bet that bottom dollar that now that I'm better, hanging out is going to be low priority. I know it was hard, and folks often don't know what to say or do ... but trust me when I say it was harder for me.

  • Don't Seek Comfort From Me

    Please Don't Ask Me To Be A Source Of Comfort Right Now

    I get that it may be scary for me, or that my condition may trigger some fear in others, but I really can't comfort anyone else right now. I understand that my cancer journey affects others, but they should definitely find someone else to seek comfort from other than me.

  • I'm Not Brave or Strong Because of My Diagnosis

    I'm Not Brave or Strong Because of My Cancer Diagnosis

    Considering the alternative, I did what most people in my position would do. And please know that God didn't give me this because I could "handle it." Like all people who have or develop cancer, I had a gene mutation. I'd like to think my God wouldn't purposefully give me a life-threatening disease just because I was strong enough to beat it. To me, that sounds like an awfully cruel thing for God to do, no?

  • Kind Attention Is Greatly Appreciated

    Your Kind Attention Is Greatly Appreciated

    The attention my friends and family have paid me has not gone unnoticed -- and is so greatly appreciated. But please don't drop out of my life because I'm in remission or have been declared cancer-free. I still need people in my life who care about me.

  • If I Die From Cancer, Don't Say I Lost My Battle

    If I Die From Cancer, Please Don't Say I Lost My Battle

    I did my best, and would hate to think that all my hard work staying alive for so long was considered a loss. Let's say my time here was short but victorious. Please honor my memory -- whenever the time comes -- by speaking of my sparkling personality, movie-star good looks, and fighting spirit.

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