Please Don't Ask Me How I'm Feeling

Last updated: May 2019

You wouldn’t think a cancer survivor would get upset by being asked, “How are you feeling?”

Or that they would be bothered by being told, “You look great.”

Things people say when you have cancer

None of these falls under the category of “stupid things that people say when you have cancer.”

Forgive me for digressing, but the stupidest thing someone ever said, when I was bald and thin, was, “You look like you came out of a concentration camp.”

It’s thoughtless to say that to any cancer survivor.

It’s even worse if you say it to someone like me, whose great uncles and aunts perished in concentration camps.

When the person – who by the way was a friend – made the concentration camp comment to me, I don’t remember saying anything. It was a long time ago.

My jaw must have dropped. I think it happened when I took off my hat to show her my bald head. I silently got up and went to get my hat and put it back on.

"Fine, thanks, and you?"

When the person recently asked me how I was feeling, I replied, “Fine, thanks, and you?”

And when she said I looked good, I said, “Thanks, you do, too.”

You might wonder what the problem is. I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm. She was being solicitous. She was complimenting me.

The problem – a very subtle one, by the way – is that this isn’t the same kind of question and comment you would say to anyone. You say it to a Person Who Has Been Sick.

A desire for a normal life after cancer

When I was still receiving treatment or recovering, it would be a different story. But now it is nine years after my last transplant. I want to fade into the woodwork of normalcy.

Of course, I definitely don’t want anyone to say, “You look bad.”

I’m glad that people care.

It’s just that I don’t want them to say anything at all about my looks. I want them to treat me the same as they would a neighbor or friend who never had anything happen to them.

When you start a conversation with most people, you ask, “How are you?”

You don’t ask, “How are you feeling?”

Back to the acquaintance who asked me that, I neutralized it by saying the usual, “Fine, thanks, and you?”

Followed by, “You look good too!”

Side effects remain but trying to move forward

Maybe I wanted to say, “OY, my feet are killing me but I’m otherwise OK.”

I would have been referring to the neuropathy I have had for nine years.

Most people don’t really want to hear about it, and unless I decide to bring it up, I don’t want to talk about it.

So unless they have been recently ill or recovering, don’t ask a cancer survivor how they are feeling.

Just ask them how they are.

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