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Please Don’t Ask Me How I’m Feeling

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.

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.


  • Jim Smith moderator
    7 months ago

    @ronnigordon I understand wanting to feel normal. Getting on with our lives can be difficult when people only see us as a cancer patient. My wife is wonderful and treats me as very normal… maybe too normal… She keeps me busy with a huge too-do list around the house! Leukemia is apparently no excuse for not doing the dishes.

  • Rose
    7 months ago

    I don’t mind being asked how I am or told I’m looking good even when I’m not. They mean well. If a comment is a bit off like one friend saying ‘the most awful things happen to you!’, I gently instruct them that this is not really helpful and let it go. Just trying to extract joy from good moments and ignore the other stuff.

  • Anthony Carrone moderator
    7 months ago

    I like that outlook, @Rose. I agree that most people mean well, even if it comes off as rude or inconsiderate. The best we can do is say thank you, let them know it’s not helpful (if it isn’t) and move on. They’ll learn! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and being part of the community 🙂

  • Ronni Gordon moderator author
    7 months ago

    You mean I shouldn’t shout at them and tell them to go jump in a lake??? Ha, only kidding, I wouldn’t do that. I just keep it conversational and say fine, thanks, and you, to keep a level playing field.

  • Racheli Alkobey moderator
    7 months ago

    OH MY GOODNESS. I would FREAK OUT at people who asked “How are you?”. Especially when they asked in a passing way and I clearly was not “good!” haha. In retrospect, I think I blame my rage on the topic on steroids because I AM grateful that people care to ask but the questions but questions like that don’t always have the response that people expect to hear!

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    7 months ago

    @ronnigordon Wow. Concentration camp. That’s a bold choice if they were making a joke, and if not, well, that’s even worse. People say some of the most insensitive things when you have cancer, but I usually consider the source. If it’s a friend then they probably are just overhwhelmed and confused at what to say and do so I forgive. If it’s a stranger or a neighbor or something then I just say “oh well, they’re not getting a christmas card” and move on. 🙂 Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Ann Harper moderator
    7 months ago

    Good point. I dont like when people say that to me, but I have to admit – I’ve said it to people too. I will think twice about this in the future.

  • bluchs
    7 months ago

    Ronni Thank You
    I am at a point now, that if someone asks me, How do you feel?
    I just say
    ” I am sorry I do not know how to answer that question any more” PERIOD
    Before I got sick, I weighed 175 lbs. and was 5’10” tall with a 32″ waist.
    Just as I had been for over 40 years, it never changed.
    This morning I weigh 130 lbs. , I can not stand up straight , so I appear to be about 5’7″ tall ?
    I look very sick, because I Am!
    I too, am pleased that people still care.
    Some of my friends have not said a word, because, I Guess?? They do not know what to say??
    Side effects, You bet, it is crazy, and it sucks.
    I agree that people should not ask, how we are.
    Perhaps, just say, I am Praying for you, or can I help you with anything, or perhaps, just sit and listen to us, be a friend.
    We are suffering mentally and physically, how are we to answer a question like, How Are You Feeling??
    Just smile and tell us You are thinking about us, and if it is true that you love us?
    That is all we want

  • Ann Harper moderator
    7 months ago

    I like that – just smile and say how we feel.

  • Ronni Gordon moderator author
    7 months ago

    I’m actually fine with people asking me how I am. I just don’t want it to be in a heavy, or weighted tone! Hang in there!

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