How to ask cancer patients how they are doing…. and an update.

Hello!  This post has a few goals. The first is to let my friends and family know – I’m still good!  I had one of those follow-up appointments just over a week ago, and I’ve graduated to less frequent appointments! I’m stoked. I seem to be doing well and continue to enjoy my NED status.

The second goal is to describe a response I recently wrote to someone’s asking about how to get people to stop asking us how we are feeling.  Interesting thing to think about, no?  I mean, it’s nice to hear that so many people care so much, but frequent requests for updates and details can sometimes be exhausting. Some people are relentlessly tactless when it comes to demanding updates on their terms.

Sometimes the conversation went like this.

Other Person (OP):  Hi Lee – how are you feeeeeeeeeeeeling?
Lee: I’m alright, and you? How are you doing?
OP:  No no – I mean – how are you feeeeeeeeeeeeeling? How’s treatment? Is it…

And the floodgates were open and whatever I was working on was total toast.

Some people simply must know what they want to know when they want to know it – regardless of situation, context, friendship etc… They are exhausting and frustrating and caused me to AVOID them (cue music)….

Sometimes you just wish people would stop asking. Not because of how MOST people behave… but rather because of how SOME people behave.

And so, here’s what I think about this person’s question – how to get people to stop asking how I’m feeling!

My response was usually  – I’m alright or I’m hanging in there… and you? How are you doing? With few exceptions, the conversation smoothly moved on. The exceptions? Well… most of the time, I’d simply say – meh – I don’t like to talk about it…. Sometimes I actually did have to lay down an explicit boundary – no cancer talk at work please. Really, I mean it, no cancer talk at work. But, those people were in the minority…

This wordpress blog site helped a ton in this regard. I asked people to check here rather than ask me detailed questions. People were mostly really cool about that… and I made sure that the blog was up-to-date during treatment.  In this way, I had more control over when I would talk about cancer and when I could simply have normal conversations.  Ah “normal” conversations – you know…  When people talk about children, school, work, weather, bikes (doesn’t everyone talk about bikes?).

Did I talk about cancer a lot? Probably more than I really remember. Did I talk about cancer too much? Probably.

The flip side? I also like knowing what’s going on with my friends undergoing treatment… When they have blogs or caringbridge sites or related, it’s easy for me to read about how things are going, and I’m less tempted to ask uninvited “cancer” questions.

When I see my cancer buddies… I just start up with “normal” conversation starters…

My favorite: Hey – it’s good to see you!

This one is my favorite because it hands the reins to the person dealing with the health issue. That person can then direct the conversation as desired… Sometimes, right to cancer… treatment… or the weather or a movie or a book or work…. or BIKES… What’s been delightful is how well it seems to work. I’ve clearly conveyed that I care about the person… and the conversation goes smoothly to right where the conversation needs to go.


About rleepenn

I'm a mom and a chemistry professor, and I love to ride bikes! On July 29th, 2011, I received the news that I have breast cancer. This is my blog....
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