Things People Say About Cancer


Sometimes, it is better to keep things to yourself when it comes to cancer.

cartoon drawing of Kiki Peppard

I recently attended a cancer conference that was incredibly refreshing and enlightening. The presenter’s words resonated with me on many levels. Somehow, it seemed she was able to get into my head and knew my thoughts and felt my feelings. How did she do that? It was like Mr. Spock from Star Trek doing one of his infamous Vulcan mind melds.

She did it because she was a cancer survivor. She was the most articulate and empathetic person I have heard since my own diagnosis.

There are times we don’t tell our loved ones and friends that we have been diagnosed with cancer because that is a very difficult conversation to have. Rather, I offer it is not the difficulty in presenting the dire information, but the absurd responses we receive after delivering the message.

This remarkable speaker had us take out a piece of paper and she gave us five minutes to write down the stupid things people have said to us since finding out we had cancer. What? I couldn’t believe how bold she was to task us with this assignment. I jumped for joy having an opportunity to share the buried anguish that has plagued me on this topic. I kept that list and sadly add to it every day.

After five minutes, she asked for volunteers from the audience to read what they wrote. The audience members jumped up in excitement as if their name had been called on the game show The Price is Right. They certainly couldn’t wait to come on down and share the stupid things people have said to them.

I sat back roaring with laughter and nodding like a bobblehead doll. Here I thought I was the only recipient of unwanted, unwarranted, unsolicited and the most unhelpful advice. Many in the audience shared the same things I have heard though I had quite a few lines I could have contributed as well.

For instance, just this past week I received an e-mail telling me certain seeds cures cancer. Followed by another e-mail saying a woman cured her cancer by eating raw vegetables only. Please, my IBS gut involuntarily clenched and churned at the thought of a solitary raw vegetable diet and nudged me to be near a bathroom as quickly as possible at the thought.

Has anyone suggested that you “think” your way out of cancer or cure yourself with your thoughts and words? I don’t doubt there are and have been spontaneous miraculous cures or remissions through unorthodox or alternative methods of self-treatment. I do silently jump for joy for these individuals while selfishly envying their success.

When I first shared that I had triple negative breast cancer that was likely to come back after my lumpectomy, friends told me, “Don’t talk like that. Don’t let the cancer hear you. If it hears you say it is coming back, then it most certainly will. So don’t say it.”

There it was. The magic cancer cure – mind your words. I do wholeheartedly believe the expression “what you think about you bring about”. However, I don’t think I ever once thought about bringing about cancer. I never openly asked or pondered if I was going to be one of the unfortunate one in eight women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. But I am.

When my oncologist explained that the cancer would likely recur after my lumpectomy even though I had clean margins, I told him it wouldn’t. It did. When I was told after my mastectomy (with clean margins) that the type of cancer I had would recur, I said it wouldn’t. It has and has since metastasized to the skin on my chest wall. This type of rare aggressive cancer will eventually find its way into my blood stream to attack my organs. No amount of seeds, raw vegetables, sugar avoidance, praying, or talking it away will change that.

If you are one of the fortunate who has gone into remission or been completely healed, I am honestly thrilled for you. There are others who won’t attain that goal and repeatedly hearing or receiving stupid messages about what to eat, avoid, think, say or wish is not helping us.

If someone tells you they have been diagnosed with cancer, can you please just give them a hug? Can you please just cease with talking about unfounded cures that you know nothing about? Just let them know you are there for them. Just listen. Just bring tissues. Give a ride to an appointment. Don’t add to our list of stupid things that people say. When you don’t know what to say just say, “I don’t know what to say”. Because neither do we.

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