What not to say to someone who has cancer

Every time someone tells me I’m lucky to have breast cancer, a little part of me wants to punch them in the face.

“You’re lucky, it’s such a well-researched cancer.”
“You’re lucky, hardly anyone dies from breast cancer these days.”
“You’re lucky, breasts aren’t essential, you can just chop them off.”

I know all of these things are true, and yet, every time I hear the L-word I want to rage at the world.

Yes, it is a well researched cancer and yes, the fatalities aren’t what they used to be but not everyone makes it through.
And while it’s easy enough to be blase about someone else’s mastectomy, you don’t realise how attached you are to non-essential body parts until someone casually brings up the possibility of removing them.

It’s hard breaking the news to people and I understand that their first instinct is to look for the positives. It sure beats being told a tale of woe about such-and-such who didn’t make it through breast cancer. And I’m not even joking about that, it’s happened a few times.

Although BC, before cancer, I was a glass-half-full type, right now I don’t want relentless positivity. I also don’t want to be looked on with pity or told that it is all part of God’s great plan. God and I are not friends right now.

The week after being diagnosed was a blur. I wanted people to ignore it, I wanted people to recognise it, I didn’t know what I wanted except to stop being told how lucky I was.

And if I couldn’t identify what I needed from others, what right did I have to be angry at their responses?

It turns out that what I needed was a recognition that this is shit. I only realised that when a friend railed at the world on my behalf and said, “I’m sorry you have to go through this.”

Because she was right, there is nothing good about it and there is no silver lining, it is something that I have to go through even though I desperately don’t want to.

The only other thing that makes me angrier than the word lucky, is journey.

This is not a journey.

It’s a long, sweaty, arduous, uphill trek that I would never sign up for. After all, I’m the girl who took the train up to Machu Picchu rather than do the four day hike.

And I had a choice in that. With this, it’s not as if I’ve picked up a brochure and decided that six months of chemo would be a good idea, now would I like to administer it via a pill or IV? And then choose between the drugs that make your hair fall out or the ones that cause your nails to fall off? Let’s throw in a case of early menopause too, just because it will round out the journey nicely.

But when I’m done feeling sorry for myself, I know that what everyone says is true. I’m lucky. They found it early, removed it and I got to keep my breasts.

No such luck with the hair though, I had my first chemo session last Friday and it’s falling out as I type.

Guess I’ll be lucky if my nails don’t follow suit.

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