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Inappropriate Compliments

Posted 8/4/2016

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  One little discussed experience around cancer is inappropriate compliments. What do I mean? If you were to join us one Monday morning for my weekly support group for women with metastatic cancer, you would see a room filled with mostly middle aged woman who look completely well. At this time, only one of them is bald, and she carries that style with swagger and sass. Looks great. We talk sometimes about how often people say to them: "You look great!" And how they have no idea how to respond: "Well, I may look fine, probably because I have my hair, but actually I am slowly dying."

  I also often hear women with advanced cancer, that is invisible to the outside eye, talk about their use of handicapped parking spaces, and the verbal abuse they sometimes encounter. They may look well, but their bones may be riddled with cancer, and any kind of walking is painful, and they surely have a handicap sticker. When challenged, they don't really want to share their true story with a nasty stranger, but neither do they want to just take the anger.

  This is an introduction to a very moving story from The New York Times. It is written by the mother of an adolescent girl who has leukemia, proving that family members may experience these same problems of misplaced compliments.

Cancer in the Family: Compliments on Being Thin

“I’m so jealous. You’ve lost so much weight, you look amazing,” a friend says to me. “I’d love to catch the stomach bug this year and lose a few pounds myself.”

I smile. I don’t know what to say.

Since January, one of my 12-year-old twin daughters, Devon, has been in isolation in a Boise, Idaho, pediatric oncology unit receiving chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukemia. Her sister, Gracie, remains behind, in a little town south of Sun Valley. To cope, she has assigned herself as captain of Devo’s Fight Club, a band of peer supporters started with a sweatshirt she designed in the first 36 hours of her sister’s diagnosis.

Their dad and I have been driving the two and a half hours between home and hospital, splitting the week between our daughters, our jobs, middle school’s demands, puberty’s capriciousness, sports, music and running a household that includes cats, dogs, horses, cows and fish.

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