I’m fine, thank you; and how are you?

I came across a recent article in the NYT the other day that I read and thought about blogging about but initially decided not to. But then a breast cancer support Facebook group I’m in posted on this topic, with active commentary and strong opinions. So now I have thoughts, and when I have thoughts, I type them down in my blog.

The article is about what to say – or not to say – to a cancer patient. It says that “how are you?” is the most common thing people say, and that it’s usually not the “right” thing to say. It goes on to quote the author of a new book about how to care for a cancer patient, explains why it’s not a helpful thing to say, and gives suggestions for things you should say instead.

I get that the “how are you?” question can be frustrating. And it’s true, I get it a dozen times a day. I usually respond either with, “I’m fine, and how are you?” – the way you’d respond to the exact same question if you weren’t a cancer patient – or with a brief version of Erika’s Cancer Update Of The Day, depending on how much I feel like torturing you at that moment.

I know I’m different from most cancer patients, with a let-it-all-hang-out, don’t-care-what-other-people-think attitude. I can see how for other people who are not me the simple question of “how are you?” could throw them for a loop. So I sympathize with the article, and get why cancer patients have a lot to say on this topic. I think the article is worth reading and understanding, if it helps everyone be a bit more sensitive to the roller coaster that’s going on continuously in the mind of someone with cancer.

I’ve heard stories of people being told they look great in insensitive ways – such as, “gee, you don’t look sick enough to have cancer!” and stupid shit like that (people are dumb). But on the other hand, I know I sometimes really do look sick enough to have cancer, and quite honestly I don’t want to hear that from people either – I have been told a few times that I “look tired,” including at times when I did not feel tired. In my typical balls-out way, I probably said something back like, “Nope, I’m fine!! Gonna go run around the block now!!”

joey.jpgSo what the hell is someone supposed to say? The article gives suggestions, but seriously, I have a dozen daily casual interactions that last for about twelve seconds. They happen when I drop the kids off at school, or bump into a neighbor at the mailbox. It would annoy the shit out of me to have a “real, heartfelt” conversation all the time. Can you imagine the secretary at school, amidst the chaos of drop-off, saying to me (and I’m quoting from the article): Feel free to cry with me, to talk, or not to talk. I’ll take my lead from you?

For me, someone saying “Hi, how are you?” is a normal thing to say. It is a normal thing that normal non-cancer people say to other normal, non-cancer people. And it’s nice, for just a moment, in a casual, normal interaction, TO BE A NORMAL PERSON.

The reason I initially was not planning on blogging about this article is because I really don’t want my readers to feel like they have to second guess what they say to me. Like I said way back in the beginning of all this shit, I’m fine with anyone saying anything, saying everything, or saying nothing. If you tell me I look great and I feel like shit, I’ll probably tell you that. If you tell me I look like shit – whether I feel like it or not – I’ll probably say fuck you. And quite honestly, most of you, when the timing is appropriate, have said much more meaningful things to me than “how are you.” You are all wonderful and I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate the support I’m getting from my friends, family, and community, regardless of elocution and magniloquence.

Ok so now pretend this post never happened and go back to whatever you were doing…

2 thoughts on “I’m fine, thank you; and how are you?

  1. It also depends the circumstances under which you are asked. If Dr. Cancer asks, you give a different answer than if one of the parents at drop off asks. If someone drops by and brings lunch, you give an even more different answer. No matter who asks under what circumstances, they all care. So-o.. how are you?


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