Three people speaking with a fourth person who appears to be going through chemo

Cancer & The Feelings Others Have About You

Often, we write about the feelings we have when going through chemo and blood cancer, and there are a ton, no doubt. They run the gamut from happy to sad to scared to anxious, and even a little excitement. It’s a real emotional rollercoaster, having cancer, and it can be especially overwhelming for anyone who is recently diagnosed.

Other people's feelings

The thing is, I don’t want to talk about our feelings today, no, what I want to talk about is other people’s feelings. Why? Because it seems like friends, acquaintances, and even randos in the grocery store have strong and varied feelings about our cancer and aren’t afraid to share them.

The reason I bring this up is because I was in the store one day during chemo and while it wasn’t overtly evident I had cancer, the smart money if someone was guessing would be that I was currently on chemo. My hair was thin and grey, I was wearing a hat, and I was paler than a skeleton who found out they missed the one day their office pool won the lottery.

A stranger's shaming comment

As I was perusing the cat food isle, looking for the food our cats like, this older man came up to me and stopped in front of my cart and paused. Like, for a really long time. Long enough that I was beginning to wonder if he was going to murder me with the leg of lamb he had in his cart. Finally, after the longest pregnant pause in the world, like long enough to have verbal octuplets, he said, “you know, you shouldn’t come out if you are going through chemo. It makes people feel weird.”

Yeah, that happened. I had gotten chemo-shamed in the grocery store. Taken aback, my usual quick wit failed me, and I didn’t know what to say. I’d like to tell you that I made some clever remark like “At least my cancer will eventually get healed, your IQ is stuck where it is forever.” But, hindsight is 20/20 and I think I just said, “Uhhhh, OK,” and moved in. The reason I tell you this isn’t to upset you but to show you just how many feelings the people around us have about our cancer.

Friends and family members unsolicited advice

It doesn’t stop with random grocery store rude and nosy people. Friends and acquaintances are just as susceptible. How many times have you had a friend come over to visit while you are going through the thick of it and they come armed with several home-brewed and anecdotal remedies that they heard from their cousin’s roommate’s former girlfriend’s uncle that they swear he said totally made his nausea go away? Then they make you eat or drink some of the gross stuff in front of you and you have to smile like you just ate a delicious cupcake when it really tastes like a sour lemon flavored onion with rancid milk sauce. You know you’ve done it before. It’s ubiquitous when it comes to cancer.

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Close friends who disappear

Also, there are the friends who just up and disappear like smoke in the wind. Friends who you were absolutely sure would step up and be there for you, treat you like you caught the plague and they don’t want to be anywhere near you.

Why is this? Well, it also has to do with feelings. These people, more than likely, are too uncomfortable and anxious to be around such a powerful symbol of human mortality and death. It reminds them that anyone, anywhere, at any time, can be stricken with a life-altering and possible life-ending disease like cancer, suddenly and in the blink of an eye. It’s just too much for some to handle.

Acquaintances who hang on all the details

As if that wasn’t enough, you also have what I like to call the “misery junkies.” Usually this is a friend, acquaintance, or even a co-worker, and this person simply cannot get enough of the morbid, sordid, gory details of your cancer, chemo, treatment, and side effects. They want to hear about everything, in all the gross detail, and they just cannot seem to be sated.

In extreme cases it can get to the point where they start saying things like “I think I may have cancer too, I need to get myself checked,” or start to show psychologically-induced sympathy pain. I know, it sounds impossible, but it’s true, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Again, this comes down to the feelings of others about your cancer – usually it’s a mixture of jealousy of the attention and sympathy you are getting and also feeling of inadequacy on their part, as if their life is devoid of anything substantial so they make your thing into their thing.

It's bizarre folks, no doubt. Even though you have the cancer, the feelings it elicits in the people around you, sometimes complete strangers, are real and sometimes totally bizarre. Just another absurd thing you’ll have to deal with during your already – fraught-filled cancer journey.

There’s not much you can do about the feelings of others, unfortunately, other than ignore it and be prepared for odd behavior. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a much-needed laugh or two out of it! Talk soon.

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