Sunday, August 30, 2015


Nancy over at Nancy's Point recently blogged about a phenomenon that many of us have to deal with post cancer: people saying stupid stuff to us.

As Nancy points out, "There are way too many people telling patients how to feel, how to act, how to do cancer and yes, how to do survivor-ship." True, dat.
(Copyright 2015 TheBigCandMe)

And dat got me thinking. (Play along with me here.)

See if you can recall something someone said to you during (or after) your cancer treatment. A comment that struck a negative chord inside you. Maybe it was something like, "You'll feel stronger soon, and then you'll be able to put this whole event behind you." Or "You'll be back to normal in no time." Or maybe they said nothing at all. 

Now imagine holding up a mirror and asking that person to repeat their words (or lack thereof) to themselves in the mirror.

Suddenly it becomes clear: People are talking to themselves when they say stupid things to us! They are subconsciously trying to calm their inner turmoil and anxiety — not ours.

People who give advice to cancer patients are really just saying the words they want to hear. Words they need to hear. No matter how awkwardly they may (or may not) say it, what they really mean is: Please go back to normal so that I can go back to normal! You and me both. Except normal doesn't live here any more. (That's another blog post for another time; I'm working on it.)

So here's what I think is actually going on. When someone tells you (and someone will tell you, if they haven't yet) to find your "new normal," they're trying to convince themselves that everything is going to return to normal. In telling you to get back to normal, they're giving themselves permission to do so as well. It's like a game of opposites — they say it to us, but they really mean it for them. This alleviates their guilt about putting our cancer experience behind them. I get it. They have to emotionally compartmentalize our cancer in order to move on with their life. 

Oh were it only that easy for us. 

Wait. Maybe it can be — a little bit, anyway. (Again, play along with me here.)

You see, the flip side of the game of opposites is the game of positivesThese are the upbeat and intentionally warm and fuzzy comments people make during (and after) our cancer treatment that make us feel comforted and loved. Comments like, "I love you no matter what you look like" or "You are such an inspiration to me" or "We'll get through this together." These comments feel good great. They nourish us when we are at our weakest, and are vital to our well-being — and our recovery.( I'm not talking about the Pollyanna comments we all also hear; that's fodder for another blog post.) 
(Copyright 2015 TheBigCandMe)

I'm talking about the comments that truly make us feel good. What if we only hear those once in a blue moon? What if we never hear them at all? What then?

I've got a trick. Try standing in front of a mirror and telling yourself the very words you most wish someone would say to you. The words you really, really need to hear.
"We'll get through this together" sounds lovely coming from a friend or loved one, but when spoken by you, to you? They are absolutely, positively powerful.

Try it and see what I mean.

Related posts: 


  1. I am in agreement with you. When people say certain things to us about our cancer, they are really talking to themselves. They are expressing how they wish they would react under the same circumstances.

    I did try what you are suggesting when I was first diagnosed with cancer. In fact, I spoke to my body almost every night, trying to have a dialogue. Saying "we'll get through this together" to myself gave me the courage to continue and to believe in my body again, even after it had failed me. But I just did it again while looking in the mirror, and I felt more confident this time than I did before. I only wish that I'll always look in the mirror and repeat those words to myself, no matter how dark my world is.

    Thank you for such an insightful post.

    1. That's so cool that you tried the mirror talk when you were diagnosed — and so interesting that you felt more confident doing it again now.

      It's a great tool to use anytime, but somehow it always gets relegated to the “bad times” toolbox.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. I don't have cancer but I have heard stupid things said thatmake me shake my head... what the heck in normal? I don't know anybody that is 'normal' .. we all have baggage. I think we just need to be there for each other and not necessarily try to come up with words that we think we need to hear... Great post as always Renn... ♡

    1. So true, Launna! The word "normal" is really like perfection... it's unattainable. There is no normal. And YES, we all have baggage. Makes traveling so much more interesting! Thanks for always stopping by!

  3. This is the BEST!!!!! xoxo

  4. Hello Renn..
    The above was me lol
    If I recalled every thing some one said that was just plain stupid, ignorant, intolerant, compare I'd either be rich or nuts.....

    I have a friend and I try not to be insensitive but I am ready to put her on blast. Her daughter has Inflammatory Breast Cancer I never say anything to be mean or hurtful My "friend" continually compares mine to hers. She had a Lumpectomy with Radiation She had the shote prior to treatment I didn't I couldn't tolerate them Her daughter is taking Arimidex not me I stopped them all when they nearly made me crippled , her daughter went back to work is also having complimentary treatments. Her daughter is an executive with a large company - you know company jet and all. Her daughter is wealthy I have a disability payment.. There is no comparing are not even close I am constantly being told if I had done this like her daughter I wouldn't be having so many side effects. It's getting tiring and I feel I need to speak up....... no cancers are alike people need to stop comparing.....

    I am back blogging... Hope you will check my blog again..
    Love Alli....... xx

    1. Alli! Long time no chat, sistah! I'm sorry you are dealing with flagrant comparisons. You are right; no two cancers are alike, and that makes it even *more* difficult for people to know what to say. This is such a complex issue! I look forward to reading your posts. Stop by and leave me a link to your blog so I can catch up. {{{hugs}}}

  5. By far, the stupidest thing anyone ever said to me was said by my breast surgeon. At a six-month checkup, after asking me how I was, and me telling her, in tears, that I could not shake my fatigue & needed help, she said, "Well, what do you want ME to do about it?" Oy. Act like a freakin' doctor, maybe?? I did get a prescription from her that helped, but I fired her eventually.

  6. Hi Renn,
    Oh yes, the things people say... I think you are really on to something here in that sometimes people really are talking to themselves when say these things to us. You are so smart! I'm going to have to try your mirror trick. And thank you for the mention! Much appreciated.


Your comments are encouraging — and encouraged!