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What Not to Say

Posted 9/24/2015

Posted in

  We spend a lot of time talking about things that people have said to us. Sometimes they are exactly the right comments, but, more often, they are not. Whether they are hurtful or insensitive or prying or just plain dumb is variable, but we all hear them. It helps to remind ourselves that almost all of those comments come from a good heart, and people just don't know what to say and are not intentionally being awful.

  It is helpful to have several all-purpose comments stored in your mind. Then, when someone says something awkward, you don't have to fumble for a response, but can immediately pull up one of your standards. These vary depending on the situation, the speaker, and how rude you are comfortable being. One neutral one is: "I would just as soon not talk about it." and then change the subject. Another one, useful when someone is suggesting that you consider X supplement or Y special diet, is: "My doctor has asked me not to try anything like that." and then change the subject. My very favorite one is this: When someone has said something along the lines of "What is your prognosis?" or "My cousin had ovarian cancer, too, and she died." or "Must have been caused by all the stress in your life.", you pause for several seconds, even a minute. And then, in a puzzled, not an angry voice, you respond: "Why did you say that to me?" It always works, throws the discomfort back onto the other person, and you didn't have to say any more.

  Another strategy is to keep a list. When someone makes one of those terrible comments, having a list gives you someplace to put it--someplace other swirling in your brain at 2:00 AM. The list can be virtual or it can be on your computer or it can be on a piece of paper. One woman kept a large piece of poster board in her bedroom, titled it Dumb Remarks and looked forward to adding material to it.

  I received this short article from Wendy Zukerman, a science writer in Australia. You will enjoy it. And please send or make comments. She is asking for more.

What not to say to someone with cancer

When someone in your life has been diagnosed with cancer it can be difficult to know what to say. Do you talk about your aunt's experience with the disease? Or distract them with a cat video? Dr Kerri Parnell, who's living with cancer, has a few surprising tips for the inevitably sad and potentially awkward conversation.

Read more:


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  • Linda Floyd said:
    9/22/2015 5:39 PM

    I also have been asked, "What is your prognosis," and it gets me every time. I do admit, I have not been very forgiving of people when they say it to me. I have said on occasion to certain people when faced with this comment - I will probably live longer than you.