Holiday gatherings can sometimes be difficult when you are ill, but not looking ill, it can be really confusing to family and friends. It’s a Cancer thing!  In a support group that I moderate, many of the ladies found Christmas gatherings difficult, so I shared this comic as a stress breaker, which in turn, inspired the article below, by Kate Strosser.  Hope Always, Terry

It’s A Cancer Thing: You Wouldn’t Understand

lockjaw comic

For most of my adult life, I have loved a good compliment. Ok, so I have a bit of an ego. But hearing someone tell me I looked good would make me smile. A bit of a “clothes horse”, I loved shopping for outfits, getting a bargain and finding a way to wear a few trendy pieces. So how is it that hearing someone say “You look good” can have such a negative impact now?  I really hate hearing it since I was diagnosed with Stage IV IBC in 2009.  I took early retirement on disability and now compliments are much less frequent. Yet the one I hear most often is the very one I dread, “You look good.”

I am never sure what the meaning is anymore. Does it mean I look better than a dying woman does? Does it mean I actually look well in spite of a serious disease? Does it mean I don’t look sick? Does it mean I look better than the speaker expected?

And how do I respond? “Oh yes, I am only tired instead of exhausted today.”  “Oh, you didn’t notice my hairless head? I look great bald.”  “Yes, fake boobs do wonders for a gal’s self-confidence.”  “Really? It must be my ability to overcome dry skin, no hair, fatigue, my fat arm with lymphedema and the neuropathy that makes me stumble some times. I’m a regular walking wonder on how to hide cancer.”

Cancer etiquette is not a section of Miss Manner’s book.  We aren’t taught how to deal with serious illness or what to say to someone who is struggling. I also realize that people are just being kind.  But can’t they just ask how we are doing and really listen to our reply? Are they afraid to hear what we have to say?

Do they know that not everyone survives breast cancer? No one knows how long our bodies can withstand the debilitating treatments. We worry about our finances, our children and our relationships with our spouses. I suspect that many people would not want to talk to us at all if we were truthful. It’s a cancer thing you know.

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