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Unhelpful Cliches and Responses

Posted 2/5/2013

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  There is a book waiting to be written about unhelpful cliches and responses that we hear from, usually, well-meaning people. Common comments include: "I just know you will be fine" and "God does not give us more than we can handle" (my favorite story about that one comes from a support group years ago. Someone in the room said that, and one of the group members ,who was a minister, lept up from her seat and almost yelled: "Thust just is not true!") and "I know just how you feel." Other remarks are often related to the so-called power of positive thinking and the corollary destructive power of negative thinking or suggestions that we somehow are responsible for our cancers because of our diets, mind sets, poor stress management, etc.

  For women with advanced or metastatic breast cancer, this is an even more difficult and common problem. Generally speaking, people don't know or understand much about advanced breast cancer. The usual assumption is that a woman is either cured or will be dead very shortly. The reality of months and years of living on treatments, with chronic illness, with waxing and waning crises and uncertainties, is not usually understood. It is especially difficult to have much patience with dumb remarks when one is living in this limbo. The tension is often between wanting to figuratively shake someone with the harsh realities vs wanting to minimize or deny or pretend that everything is really just fine. The level of response usually is more related to how we might be feeling at any given moment than the actual dumb remark.

  This is a marvelous blog entry titled "You can do it, look at Lance" from the "Breast Cancer? But, Doctor, I hate pink blog. Here is the beginning and then a link. Take a few moments to read it all.

"You can do it, look at Lance."

There is hardly a more awkward thing to drop into polite conversation than, "I have terminal cancer" so if somebody asks me how I am,  like the rest of you, I say "fine." I do sometimes run across people who know I've got cancer and who ask specifics, and in that case, I tell the truth.  I don't have anything to be ashamed of, but I like to be sure they really want to know.  If they use the word "prognosis," I spill.   I usually soften it a bit,  "I'm terminal but my doctors don't give time estimates."  That way they won't feel like I might drop dead before they've finished their coffee.

The most common response I get to that news is, "Well, don't give up, look at Lance Armstrong.  He was near death and he went on to win the Tour de France and now he's cured."  That response is so predictable it might as well enter the Cancer Cliche book, along with "New Normal" and "Battle with Cancer."


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