Things Not to Say to a Breast Cancer Patient

1. “You are so lucky – You are going to get new Boobs!”

First of all, it is called reconstruction surgery for a reason. A part of my body (a part, I might add, that I was quite fond of) has to be removed because I have cancer.

Lucky and Cancer do not belong in the same sentence!!!

2.  “You look too healthy to have cancer!”

To which I would reply  “I know, too bad my cancer didn’t know that!”

3.    “All better?”

I was asked on my first day back to work. I wanted to scream, “Well let’s see I have just had 2 major surgeries in the past 3 months. I have had Breast Cancer 3 times in the last 25 years and I am so tired of it. So yes I am back at work to keep my insurance and to pay my medical bills but  I am in no way 100%!” But instead I would just smile and say ” Getting there.”

4. “You are so brave, I could never do it”

Well of course you could if your choice was your breast or your life! Your life wins hands down. Please don’t put me on a pedestal as the model of bravery. It makes it more difficult to share what I’m really feeling.

5.  “I would have both breasts off in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t think twice about it.”

Yes, you would think twice about it and if you didn’t I would be concerned for your psychological well being. It is the most difficult decision that I’ve ever had to make, even though I knew it was the right choice for me. Two years later, I am definitely happy that I chose the path I did but it was definitely not an easy decision.

Everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer I’m sure could add to this list of “What Not to Say.” I also had some friends who told me after my mastectomy that they didn’t call when they found out that I had been diagnosed the third time because they didn’t know what to say.  Well I was pretty speechless myself! How about “I am so sorry that you have to go through this again.” “Would you like to go for a walk, a movie or just talk? I’m here for you.” “What can I do to help you?”

Don’t isolate me. I am the same person that I have always been. I still laugh at the same things. I just happen to also have cancer! Also please, please don’t share with me about everyone you know who have been diagnosed with cancer and isn’t doing very well! Not helpful!!! I was so fortunate that most of my friends were definitely there for me. Just as heart warming were the people that I hardly knew that sent cards and notes telling me that they were thinking of me and that I was in their prayers. That meant so much to me and I thank them all.

Recently, I have a very good friend who was undergoing chemo. We were invited to a pool party and she had just lost her hair that week. She had contemplated not going but decided in the end that we were all such close friends that she would come. Well she showed up at the party with a black turban, a straw hat and large black sunglasses! You could have heard a pin drop. No one knew what to say until I exclaimed “Oh you look just like Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard!” I heard people gasp when I said that but my friend just starting laughing, as I knew she would, and then everyone relaxed and it was all okay.

One of the most important lessons that I have learned through this journey is to understand that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Some friends could sit with me and let me vent or cry. Some couldn’t handle that but they made a great chicken Marsala! Sometimes relationships change in changing situations and that’s o.k.

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