“I want to punch you…here’s what you could say instead”

Yesterday, my freelance writer friend and DC cancer-survivor partner-in-crime posed a question to her Facebook fans: What should you never say to someone with cancer? I posted a glib remark (pasted below)…

“My mother’s neighbor’s cousin-in-law’s best friend’s ex-boyfriend’s illegitimate child’s dog’s breeder had cancer once, so I know EXACTLY what you’re going through.”

…but as I looked back over the comments that followed later, the whole post struck a chord. People were justifiably angry about what others had said, and many were indignant that people could be so socially dumb. Without a doubt, there are insensitive people out there who have made comments to me and to my fellow survivors that are downright cruel. But, as Yael Cohen’s TED Talk reminded me, most are just horrifically uninformed about cancer.

Statistically speaking, as my comment above spoke to, nearly everyone on this planet could play the “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, replacing “Kevin Bacon” with “someone who has had cancer.” Cancer may be ubiquitous, but as we survivors know, cancer is also a many-faced bitch. People who experience (however removed) one type of cancer may not realize that there are cancers you can live with, cancers that can’t be cured, or cancers that may not make you lose your hair or lose weight. Unlike most of us in the Club-That-No-One-Ever-Wants-To-Belong-To, they do not automatically tune into the numbers – that more adolescents and young adults are getting diagnosed in later stages than ever before or that there really is no “safe” way to tan, smoke, or drink the Kool-Aid.

A good friend recently told me that she felt like her life was on hold while dealing with cancer, and that she was struggling to settle back into the grind with people whose lives hadn’t been on pause. We, the survivors, who have been inundated with all of these crazy experiences–chemo days, fear of scans, being on a first-name basis with anesthesiologists at multiple hospitals, to name a few–are unique. Even with as many of us as there are, we still are a rare group.

And so, we have a choice: We can ostracize, yell at, scorn, swear at, and otherwise look down upon the people who don’t “get it”. Or we can help them dislodge their feet from their mouths and show them how to help us and others. Hence, the blog title.

They say that cancer never really goes away. I would argue that as a survivor–in whatever form your survivorship takes–neither does your responsibility to educate. You are your own best advocate. You cannot possibly expect people to know how to help you unless you tell them what you need and want. In leading by example, we can show people how to help, what [not] to say, and how to advocate for themselves should they ever be initiated into the Club.

Stupid [fucking] cancer, indeed.