One of CURE's followers on Facebook recounted this gem: "Do you think you got breast cancer because of sin?"
A little more than a week ago, we asked CURE’s Facebook users to share the “dumbest thing” anyone had ever said to them about their cancer.
Man, did they share. And share. And share. In all, we got nearly 900 comments. Many comments shocked the CURE staff with their sheer thoughtlessness. Some seemed outright offensive. (See a selection of the comments below.)
The Facebook conversation drew the attention of Dan Gottlieb, Ph.D., a psychologist who hosts a long-running show on WHYY radio in Philadelphia. He did a segment July 31 in which he helped explain why people say such ridiculous things to those with cancer.
“We are hard-wired to be wary when something looks different,” Gottlieb said. “We are hard-wired be reactive when we are at risk of something.”
Our evolution, he said, makes us anxious in unfamiliar situations, and we instinctively try to assess whether we, ourselves, are at risk.
“When you say really stupid things, like ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ it’s just to help create distance from you and to help manage your own anxiety,” Gottlieb said.
Psychologist Dan Gottlieb offers help in understanding why it can be so hard to talk to someone about their cancer. (Daniel Burke Photography)
So, what should people say when they feel they have to react to the news that someone they care about has cancer?
If you do want to say something, just ask whether you can help, and how. However, “I would encourage everyone to be aware that you don’t have to say something,” Gottlieb advised.
“If you care, just care,” he said. “Often, you don’t even need words. But a touch on the shoulder — my God — that feels so good.”
We have gathered several of the comments below, grouped into broad representative categories.