Saturday, 3 April 2021

“Think positive …” and other gratuitous platitudes

There are some things that those fearing or facing a cancer diagnosis really don’t need to hear you say.

This might, on first view, read like an incredibly churlish post. Surely, you may surmise, people only say those things because they care? Mostly but not always. Sometimes it’s just to make themselves feel better.

“How are you feeling?”

This can be taken a number of ways if the question is not specific. In terms of physical recovery, the answer can be factual: I’m sore, it hurts, I’m tired … etc. Emotionally though, it feels like cruelly poking an obvious bruise.

In honesty, how do people think I’m ‘feeling’ about it? How would you feel about? It’s crap and it’s scary. I'm terrified of what might else might be lurking in other parts of my body ... and that it's going to kill me. But I'm pretty sure that's not the answer they want or are equipped to respond to!

People want a sanitised, glossed up version. They don’t really want to hear about the practical reality of the situation, either … like the fact that it’s prompted me to review my finances and update my will. Apparently, that makes me a massive fun-sponge and I’ve been told to “change the subject” because it’s “depressing”.

Which brings me to the next point …

“Think positive” and/or “it’ll be fine”

Fuck off. 

Seriously, get your coat and do one. How insultingly dismissive of my (or anyone’s) situation and very legitimate concerns.

I'm definitely not a negative person but I am a staunchly realistic one. Because let’s be frank: never in two millennia of medicine has being positive or blithely optimistic actually cured anything without a surgical or chemical intervention. Well, has it?!

Despite the tone of this blog, I’m generally quite an upbeat person. But I also think it’s much more important to be pragmatic than positive.

So being told to ‘stay positive’ feels much more for your benefit than mine. Of course, I don’t want the worst to bloody happen and constantly hope for the best outcome, but I also need to be fully aware of the range of scenarios I might face and prepare for them (just in case).

Other insensitive generic comments along these lines include:

  • “My friend’s aunt’s next-door-neighbour had an operation once and they were fine, so I’m sure you will be too.” Piss off.
  • “Yeah, but you’ve got the all clear. You’re OK now.” No, and no. #FFS

So, what should you say?

I saw some friends yesterday and probably the most refreshing question I faced was “so, just how shit is it?” My answer: “really shit.”

So, if you really want to be a friend, please let us talk about it – but only if we say that we want to (don’t push it). And that includes the scary, upsetting stuff too.

Trust me, however uncomfortable you might find the discussion it won’t be nearly as uncomfortable (and distressing) as the person facing or having treatment is finding it.

We have legitimate concerns and fears and sometimes we need to be allowed to articulate them, to manage and make sense of them, without being made to feel that we’re selfishly dragging everybody else’s mood down.

----------------------------------------------

So, there we are. That’s my Easter sermon delivered, a day early. 😉

I plan to spend the weekend pottering about and eating all the lovely chocolate and biscuits that people have sent me and then, when I'm allowed to resume ‘light exercise' next week, I can work them off again.

I’ve also got my CT scan booked in for Tuesday, back at King Edward VII in Marylebone, so fingers firmly crossed that those images and the other outstanding histology results raise no further concerns.

K x

1 comment:

  1. So often what we want is to be heard and for our fears and concerns to be acknowledged, not dismissed with platitudes. Unfortunately, there are not many good listeners around.

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