Words are a key element within the very structure of our society and of our communities. They assist us with our day to day activities and right through our entire lives. Whether the words are being spoken or written, they are equally important. It is amazingly how they can be read and heard and understood but depending on the context or interpretation, can take on a whole new and unexpected meaning.
I always am always reminded that…
I am hoping that many people will relate to this post. I thought about a quick and punchy point form post but I feel post readers will be better served with detailed explanations of my thoughts.
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I have spoken often and I have listened too, and this part never ends as there is always something to pass on or to learn about.
Are you able to imagine, how someone you know is trying their best to deal with a cancer diagnosis and the roller coaster that comes with it? Trying to cope not only with the diagnosis and treatment but also with their daily lives with family, friends and work.
Coping with all this can be all too much at times and your head spins so much you feel you may be lost into the vortex, never to be heard from again. How people deal with their cancer experience is very personal and extremely individual as no two people are the same. Nobody should ever assume how someone will or is coping with their situation.
It has become obvious to me that a lot of the time people really do not know what to say and the words used are meant to show understanding, give comfort or to bring positivity into the mix. All to often it becomes an awkward exchange on both sides and the words seem to get in the way.
All excellent and straight forward words.
Or are they?
I remember when I was first diagnosed back in 2004, I regularly used all of them and it seemed to help me (even today, I have a section in my blog named “battling the enemy”). I had a mindset that heralded that I would fight and battle until I had ‘won’ and rid myself of my cancer. There was no choice, no alternative and it was just the way it had to be. I never stopped (for too long) to think about the alternative.
It helped me so very much to make it through the rigors of continuous treatment in the twelve months + that followed my diagnosis. Because I used them, it seemed only natural that everyone around me connected to those words and used them too. It was fine, at that time the words suited my agenda. I understand that it was a very narrow train of thought, but something I thought extremely necessary at that time. It was my way of trying to keep the stress and the “what if’s” of the situation under control.
Now, move forward to 2012 with me. “You have Secondary Breast Cancer, we can treat you, but we cannot cure you”. Understandably the hardest thing I have ever had to hear but runs side by side with “you have breast cancer”. Thinking now about the words of war
Is my battle lost?
What about the war?
Did I not fight hard enough to win?
Is fighting now just a lost cause?
Should I just give up?
You can see where I am heading with this. The words of war show themselves in the pure sense of our language to mean achieving a victory in a war and in this case, against cancer.
Everyone wants to beat cancer (who wouldn’t). For many (even with Early Breast Cancer) due to the circumstances around them, these words are like hearing fingernails run down the chalk board. For just a while (when I hit the ‘dark side’) I could hear those fingernails.. The words cut me to the bone and I had a total dislike for them and started to think about if I was doing ‘enough’ in my cancer experience. Why are these words so very popular?
Is it because these words rally people together in the time of need?
Is it because people just want people to get past cancer and be well?
Is it the way words are used as a ‘pep talk’ to just keep on going?
Is it simply because people just do not know what else to say?
Words can sometimes bring power to a situation when there may normally be none. Each person who reads this will no doubt have a reason that they would use (or not use) these words and all would be acceptable at some point in time..
Originally I thought that I could try to change the words used to some other words and encourage others to change too. But that is something I have no real control over.
At the end of the day words are just a tool.. I fully appreciate that these words are very powerful to many who need them and would never want to take them away. For me personally, I will no longer give any of these words any negative power over me.
– Because winning does not have to mean getting rid of cancer and not dying of it
It means living and experiencing life and not just existing through it
– Because fighting and battle are not exclusive words in the world of cancer and really we all fight and battle to live from the day we are born until the day we pass
The battle cannot be lost, our bodies can just grow weary and are no longer able to cope.
– Dealing with Cancer is not brave
It is just doing what needs to be done to get on with living
A set of tiny little words that can help and empower you or help to dispatch you into the depths of despair ( and you do not need to be dealing with secondary breast cancer for this to happen. Early Breast Cancer itself can and does turn a person’s life totally upside down and fills their thoughts with the what if syndrome).
We cannot change the words to be something else and they are what they are. But the way we use these words can indeed be different….
– listen to the words the person dealing with cancer uses
If fight, war, win, battle, etc are being used by them, feel comfortable to use them yourself. It will be easy to show that you are trying to relate with understanding to the situation.
– On the other hand, if you do not hear those words in conversations, please refrain from using them until you know the way your family member/friend/colleague is referring to their experience. Just be there, sometimes the words are over rated.
– Think twice before sending what is perceived as a ‘throw away’ line at someone – be prepared
As a suggestion
~BCNA have a brochure that may be of assistance called
Helping a Friend or Colleague With Breast Cancer
~Also for more suggestions on thinking before you speak, an interesting article on
What NOT to say to someone with Cancer by Renata Gorton
Just Stay Positive!
I had suspected for a very long time and now slowly research papers and reinforcing my thoughts that being positive is really good to help you feel better while trying to cope with your situation but it certainly does not cure you of cancer.
It is actually OK to have sometime when you are less than positive and actually having off days is important. Without dealing with the reality of the situation and having the ability to work though everything including the ‘what if syndrome’ everything would be that much harder. Life is just not that simple.
Why can’t you just stay positive? Well because cancer is scary, tiring, ongoing and never seems to end. Your life seems to stop right at that moment and even when you have a treatment plan and have started sorting it you are still trying to cope with the pain, fatigue and uncertainty that arrives at your door while trying to stay “normal” and deal with all of your normal commitments.
Staying ‘strong’ for those around you is totally exhausting. It takes a limited resource (energy) and throws it at something that will usually give zero benefit. Don’t you think that people would love to ‘stay strong’? When people voice their vulnerabilities, fears or rant, saying ‘stay strong can reinforce their feelings that they should be able to cope and be stronger in their current situation. It does not always work.
So when you are having a really bad day or two for whatever reason and all the time beating yourself up because you ‘should be able to cope with it’, the last thing you are looking for is for someone to come up and look at you with ‘puppy dog eyes’ and say – just stay positive or stay strong.
– I have no idea what to say right now, but I am here is there anything I can do for you?
– Can I cook you dinner, get some groceries, pick up the dry cleaning, make you a cup of tea, watch a movie with you..
(never underestimate the value of a heartfelt gesture – so much more valuable than many words)
As a suggestion – further reading and extremely interesting
– Positive Thinking and Cancer – Myth Making
This is certainly a favourite (not) of many people who I know. If you consider the toxins being pushed through the body and many times zapped into the body to deal with cancer then you should understand that looking well on the outside does not always match the inside. It is always like many are actually surprised that someone undergoing treatment can look so very normal and not like they are within days of curling up their toes.
– It’s great to see you..
– and give those genuine gestures in the last section a go!
As a suggestion – Perhaps they are looking so well because they have been able to attend a Look Good, Feel Better workshop. They do amazing work!
Not understanding what someone is feeling whilst dealing with cancer is perfectly fine. But it is within your power to think before you speak and try your best to say things that help and not harm. Sometimes it is seriously better not to say something at all, just be there.
Once again, thanks for popping over and having a read.
The basis for my observations and opinions:
2004 discover my first Primary Breast Cancer
2012 found my squatters (Secondary Breast Cancer) had taken up residence
2013 discover my second and different Primary Breast Cancer
ongoing – contact with various support groups both online and face to face
ongoing – volunteer Community Liaison and co-facilitatior of online SBC support group for Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA)
ongoing – member of the Speakers Bureau for National Breast Cancer Australia (NBCF)
ongoing explorer looking for new and additional information and understanding (turtlepedia!!!!)