Courtesy Rules for Cancer Patients
Last updated: October 2023
"Oh, you look so tired!" Hee hee hee! Bless your heart!" My coworker often said to me on Fridays. At times, I felt like saying, "SHUT UP!" Now, my coworker Edith was a sweet lady, and it was her way of being friendly. But, looking back, I wished I had said, "No need to tell me that. I already know."
No one likes to hear that they look tired. So, unless you can help, such as "I'll finish this task for you if you want to rest," don't tell people how bad you think they look.
She doesn't look sick!
When I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) in 2017, I overheard a lady say to my mother, "Well, Connie looks healthy!" She couldn't believe I was ill because I wasn't thin as a rail.
Here is another courtesy rule for you. Never comment on anyone's weight unless the person brings it up in the conversation. You might think you're giving a compliment by saying, "You look like you have lost weight." But, unfortunately, my brain always hears, "You're not as fat as you used to be."
My courtesy rule about weight goes both ways. You shouldn't say to someone, "You are too fat!" It isn't nice to say, "You are too skinny!" Both comments are insults. Some cancer drugs cause people to lose weight; others cause people to gain.
I have seen two extreme reactions to my diagnosis. First, a lady I didn't even know asked if she could pray for me, and I said yes. Then, she prayed like she was an exorcist calling out a demon. Later, when I told an acquaintance that my life expectancy was ten years living with MDS, she said, "Well, ten years is a long time." No, it isn't!
Have you heard the one about the truck? People have said, "We never know when we will die, you could get hit by a truck tomorrow!" Gee, pal, you know how to cheer a girl up, don't you? True, we don't know what will happen. However, it feels like that truck barreling at me is MDS, and it's coming way too fast.
How to show support for a cancer patient
- Respect their wishes. Believe them if they tell you they don't feel up to an activity. Don't try to shame them into doing it.
- Give a sincere compliment. Don't say, "The last time I saw you, you looked so pale and tired!" No one wants to be reminded.
- Never comment on their habits. You probably mean well, but it sounds judgmental and not helpful. So instead, let the doctors fuss at them.
- Don't give medical advice unless asked. For example, "If you just went on this diet, you would get well." Really?
- Having blood cancer is serious. Could you not act like we have a head cold? There is no quick fix or easy cure. One friend said, "You're on the mend, aren't you?" I responded, "I am getting treatment."
No one has a perfect life. When I deliver Meals on Wheels, I see how many people struggle. Sometimes we have financial, family, jobs, and health challenges. But, we don't quit. Instead, we rest. I often remind myself that numbers don't predict the future. So, I think I will buy a dart board to throw at that life expectancy chart in 2027. I had better start practicing throwing darts.
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Are you or a loved one living with MDS?
How do you feel about your support system?