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Two people talking a woman inviting a man to the beach and the man saying no because he has cancer

The Not So Subtle Art of Saying No

When I do my monthly lab work, I must go to my doctor’s office and they draw blood from my port. The veins in my right arm no longer work for drawing blood and I need to be careful with my left arm, given 8 years ago an over-aggressive kidney doctor bullied me into getting an AV fistula in my left wrist in case I needed dialysis.  Going to my doctor is an extra step in the monthly lab process, but in some ways, it makes it nice given when I drop off my blood at the lab, I don’t have to sit around and wait. Today, for instance, it was super crowded at the lab and I was able to walk directly to the counter and hand in my stuff.

Our right to use the cancer card

Normally at my doctor’s office, the blood draw is quick. Today it was a little busy at the doctor’s so I had to wait for a little bit in the front lobby. While waiting, I heard a woman loudly admonish her husband, a blood cancer patient, telling him that using his health to get out of an event is not ok. She even repeated her admonishment.

I prefer to mind my own business but I thought about saying something to them.  I didn’t say anything, but the woman was quite wrong.  Her husband is a blood cancer patient and can do whatever the heck he wants. Cancer is very stressful. Cancer and cancer treatment impact the immune system. Cancer is scary and makes us change our priorities. I spend so much time at doctor’s and labs and doing something medical related, that I try my absolute best to only do things I want to do when I’m not doing something medical.

I am confident that I and we have earned the right to use the cancer card whenever we see fit. The reasons can be we don’t want to challenge our immune system, or we might be tired or we simply don’t want to spend time doing something low priority. All reasons are legitimate and people, especially those we are close to, ought to understand this.  Perhaps I should give the woman the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she is new to the caregiver role. Maybe she doesn’t understand how much a cancer diagnosis is an emotional challenge.

Before and after my blood cancer diagnosis

B.C. (before cancer) I had real difficulties saying no. I’m a Libra, the youngest child, hate conflict and we don’t have kids. So people had an expectation that I’d always be available. I even adopted this don’t say no mode and often would agree to do something that I really didn’t want to do.

A.C. (after cancer) I started to say no to things and to people. And it wasn’t easy and people didn’t always get it and I could be made to feel guilty about saying no and I’d change my answer. It took me a while to get totally comfortable looking out for number one (me). However, after 8 years with myeloma, I’ve gotten pretty good at saying no and ensuring I use my time for things that are a priority for me. It’s not always easy, but the more I do it, the easier it is and the better I feel. I even explain my rationale to people and I think that helps.

I know we all treat and handle our disease differently. There’s no right or wrong way. I know I can’t just insert myself into other people’s business.  But my advice to anyone would be to take care of yourself.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Dan122
    6 months ago

    Matt you nailed it. Our time become so precious and we have so many exams to take. So we eventually have to say no. Maybe even for all those exams one day.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    6 months ago

    Yes, Yes, and yes… sometimes people feel that when you have cancer you have to agree with everything that you’re going through. Saying no is everyone’s right to fester if even a short period in the annoyance of cancer. I agree minding your business was probably the best route, but taking care of numero uno is a must at this point. Great piece!

  • Deb Wesloh moderator
    6 months ago

    I smiled reading this, as I was exactly like you B.C. I also had a hard time saying no.

    I admittedly used the cancer card during my breast cancer chemo a lot. Now, not so much but because of the polycythemia vera I do have to get labs every month. I fortunately get an ASAP card and once I get checked in I can go straight back and get my blood drawn This is really nice when it’s super busy.

    I agree it is important to put yourself first and take care of yourself by any means possible. Even if it means you have to say no.

  • Rondakay
    6 months ago

    I totally agree!

  • amber.lynch moderator
    6 months ago

    One of the hardest things I have learned to do after my diagnosis is to say no. Now that I am in remission I am starting to say yes again, but only when I want to. I think the cancer card earns us the right to just say no.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    6 months ago

    Having cancer does give us a good excuse to say no.

  • Racheli Alkobey moderator
    6 months ago

    I love this and the perspective you have on how you have the right to say no to things and people. We truly have earned the right to value our physical and mental health over other people’s “happiness”. Within reason. I think it’s important to just be vocal in all aspects of our lives and it’s a lesson I hope people learn without having to get cancer.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    6 months ago

    I agree. We have definitely earned the right to say no.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    6 months ago

    I really like your post and I agree. We have to take care of ourselves first. Then we can help others. For me – I only ever do things that I want to do for people. They dont always appreciate it, so I make sure it will make me happy – or I dont do it.

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