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.

10 thoughts on “What not to say to someone who has cancer

  1. Love the blog. Hate the cancer. It is absolute bullshit. When can we shower you in high quality review worth cuisine?????????


    1. Thanks Frosty.
      In the next few weeks? My appetite is down but I haven’t lost my tastebuds yet. It’s one of the many charming side effects that may or may not happen during chemo.
      Otherwise we can wait and celebrate when this is all over.


  2. What a truthful insight. I hear you. The last two years i have undergone a journey similar to you and struggled with people’s ‘you are lucky’!
    I was diagnosed with dcis, have four young children 8 and under and underwent a double mastectomy, reconstruction and am still going. Hearing people telling me i was lucky made me feel worse and i eventually told them because if i didn’t i would keep falling into a spiral of anxiety.
    Goodluck with your journey. Make it about you and don’t let anyone else’s comments effect you. You have enough to deal with!


    1. Hi Lilly,
      My breast care nurse, who was fab, told me it’s important to tell people what it is you need. So if you need to ban the L-word from your life, then go for it.


  3. Hi.
    Loved reading your blog.
    Feel free to get in contact with me via email sillysam83@hotmail.com (& anyone else who is reading this)
    Ive gone through breast . I was diagnosed at 28 in 2011.
    Perhaps I can help you through this… it is tough being younger and diagnosed with this crap.
    Maybe I can bring you love and support from someone who understands.
    I run a private online support group for young women diagnosed with cancer. We are here if you need.
    Xxx love and light new pink sister…


    1. Thank you Merylee, will do. Even though it’s not a club I ever wanted to join, it helps talking to people who understand.


  4. While I certainly can’t identify with a woman’s breast cancer experience, I read this and nod my approval. I was diagnosed just a year ago, at age 46, with colon cancer. I’ve been told I was lucky and heard all the statistics about how treatable it was in my particular case. Great. I still had cancer and all the baggage that comes with it. I know people were only trying to help, but … just stop.

    The good news is I have no cancer in my body now. I had an initial emergency surgery to get the tumor out and was given a temporary colostomy. I then went through six months of chemotherapy, which absolutely sucked, and recently had a second surgery to reattach my colon and get rid of the colostomy. I have about half a colon left, but hey, whatever works, I guess.

    But people need to know there’s nothing “lucky” about having cancer. I’m thankful I’m cancer-free, but the process absolutely sucked. I wish you nothing but the best.


    1. You’re so right Mark, people are trying to help but lucky is the wrong word to use. I’ve found that a simple “I’m sorry,” works for me. It’s an acknowledgement that a cancer diagnosis is awful and if I feel like talking about it, it opens the door to a conversation but if not we can just move onto the next topic.

      Congrats on being cancer free and getting back some of your colon.


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