18 October 2006

Just fine, thanks - how are you?

It may have taken me my whole life to realize it, but I finally did realize as an adult, that when someone says "How are you?", what they are really saying is: "I'm asking this to be polite, so please just say you are fine and provide no other details." I mean, we've all seen the other person's eyes glaze over, or get the deer-in-the-headlights look when we actually start to say something about how we are doing/feeling/whatever.

There are of course, people who are genuinely concerned, and do actually want to know if you are OK or not. Which is fine. Except that some of them inevitably have a response (almost regardless of what you have said), and the response is either a) unsolicited advice, b) completely inappropriate, or c) a stupid follow-up question.

Here we have a):
Person: How are you doing?
Me: I'm doing OK, just busier than I'd like to be at the moment.
Person: Well, you should probably get more rest.

Then there's b):
Person: How are you today?
Me: I'm OK, thanks.
Person: Why don't you have children?

But I think c) is often my favorite. This was particularly the case a couple of years ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At a certain point, I realized that it just made more sense to go ahead and tell people, because I didn't want to have to worry about who knew what or how much, and also because if you are out of work for approximately 8 weeks, and your employer has everyone sign a card to you, there's a pretty good chance that your co-workers might wonder if you are, well, sick or something.

And so, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I present to you a list that I wrote up and sent to friends and family last year. Keep in mind that these are just some of the many comments/questions/crap that people said to me, either trying to be "supportive," or because hearing the news made them uncomfortable. (I of course, was loving every minute of it, 'cause what could be more fun than finding out you have cancer??)

The list consists of only certain chosen things, but suffice it to say I could do something similar every year and have new ones for quite a while. I have first listed the comment or question, and followed it with my internal response. I created it as much to amuse myself as anything else. I would just ask that you: 1. Enjoy it, and 2) If/when someone tells you they have breast cancer - or any other condition that sucks - either don't say anything (if you are totally uncomfortable hearing about it), or say something like, "Gee, I'm sorry to hear that, let me know if I can do anything to help."

Don't however, say the following.

Top Ten Things Not to Say When Someone Tells You They Have Breast Cancer

10. Oh my God! That is just every woman’s worst nightmare!
Silly me. I didn’t realize this until I was told. Here I thought there were other things that were my worst nightmare. But obviously I was wrong.

9. I know so many people who have died from breast cancer.
Thank you so much for those words of encouragement. Did I tell you about the cancer patient who went crazy and “accidentally” stabbed an insensitive acquaintance?

8. Well, even though you’ll lose your hair, maybe what grows back will be nicer.
A. Oh yeah, my hair falling out is my SECOND worst nightmare.
B. Wow, if I end up with nicer hair, it will be *so* worth it.

7. Don’t believe them – they are just trying to scare you.
Oh I didn’t know this. I’m so glad I told *YOU.* Phew!

6. Why did you even get a mammogram in the first place? You know they cause cancer.
Of course I knew this, but I didn’t think they would cause cancer in *ME.*

5. At least you don’t have children, then it would be really horrible news.
That is so true. This way, I can celebrate with my husband and a bottle of champagne.

4. Now don’t you wish you had had children? Because having children cuts your risk.
And what better reason to have children in the first place?

3. I hope your husband doesn’t divorce you once your body is mutilated.
Well, at least if he does, I’ll have your helpful shoulder to cry on.

2. Regardless what treatment, you’ll wish you were dead instead.
Please God, just kill me now.

1. Are you sure?
A. OK, you caught me. So far, I’ve only taken the Home Breast Cancer Diagnosis Test, where the strip turned pink. But I guess I should make a doctor’s appointment, huh?
B. No, I'm not. I just wanted to see what you'd say.

Remember, only you can prevent seeing yourself above ...


Anonymous said...

And don't forget that you (personally) are preventing valuable funding for heart disease prevention in women.

ps) Glad you're still around to set things straight. :-)

teabird said...

My favorite is #1. The test strip - yes!!

So, ok, all you idiots out there: don't get mammograms, do have dozens of children, do get plenty of rest, don't have champagne unless you are diagnosed with breast cancer, do find yourself a man who fantasizes about chopping off pieces of women and shaving their heads so he won't be disgusted when you need to save your life -- and you will live forever!

Oh, and stay the hell away from Bridget!


Carol said...

Jeeze, miss 1 day on the blog...well one thing is for sure, only someone from Philly would handle this like you did! Tough, TOUGH I tell ya...So how ARE you now? And I'm really interested in anything you may want to say and I will NOT reply in a fashion of #s 1-10

Elysbeth said...

Thank you for speaking out.

the wicked witch of the east said...

i forgive you for not adding the bit about getting diabeties and gaining a thougsand pounds...but as i told you before, you need to submit this list to letterman...i think it would be a big hit...and i second what lmj said...cuz let's face it...someone need to be my bitch...;)

Anonymous said...

Teabird17 she should wear lipstick, too. Because that would make her...sas-say.

Anonymous said...

A commenter on my blog, where I've just emitted a "screw chemo" tirade, suggested your Top Ten list as auxiliary reading. If only I'd found it sooner, I could've printed it on little cards and handed it out to 99% of the people who were moved to acknowledge my impending death with platitudes. On the flipside would have been the Top 1 Thing You Should Say:

"How long should I rub your feet?"

I also hated "but you're so strong!" Of course! My wry melancholic cynicism will totally defeat those malignant tumors!

Anonymous said...

This is awesome -- sorry I didn't see it when it first came out but glad it's still here. As a cervical cancer denier (alive and well!), I DO love bitches like me.

But actually, 6. and 7. are me talking.

"Don’t believe them – they are just trying to scare you."
"Why did you even get a mammogram in the first place? You know they cause cancer."

After you get over the impulse to slap me around for a couple of hours and leave me for dead, you just might take these warnings seriously. As in, what kind of a person with Internet service doesn't already know that mammograms cause cancer and that the alternative, thermograms, can help you actually prevent the conditions that encourage cancer in the breast? And yes, a few experts have made the case that a lot of diagnoses of "breast cancer" set the bar so low that you have a greater chance of dying of something else before you're 94 than dying of a few random cancer cells detected at age 43. (See book, "The Last Well Person.")

The real insult is when people expect you to be bubbleheaded enough to fall for the whole thing (all those pink teddy bears to keep you happy . . .), and worse, discourage your seeking of alternatives to conventional treatments.

My last insulting remark of the day is this: I'm truly saddened by your condition. And angry. And sympathetic. And hoping you'll look for healing and not stop looking until you find it. Hang on, sister.