Stuff People Say to People With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Pundit Molly Ivins died of inflammatory breast cancer at age 62 in 2007.

“One of the first things you notice is that people treat you differently when they know you have [breast cancer],” she wrote. “The hushed tone in which they inquire, “How are you?” is unnerving. If I had answered honestly during 90% of the nine months I spent in treatment, I would have said, ‘If it weren’t for being constipated, I’d be fine.'”

In a similar vein, actress, writer and early stage breast cancer survivor Jenny Saldana recently teamed with Linda Nieves-Powell to create “Sh*t Girls Say to Girls With Breast Cancer.” It’s funny because it’s true…if you have breast cancer, you will have heard at least one of these clueless comments. That being said, I am sure that prior to my own diagnosis I made some of these same comments to others. Well, as Dear Abby used to say, 40 lashes with a wet noodle.

I should stress that in talking to other cancer patients, a spirit of tolerance and understanding  prevails. It’s not easy to know what to say and in most cases, the responses are truly heartfelt if often unintentionally hilarious.

Saldana and Nieves-Powell show great comic skill and creativity in this clip. As in similarly titled efforts, the actress is shown in various settings (getting something from the fridge, at the wheel of her car,) as she recites comments  such as “You’ll be fine,” and “It’s because you don’t have children.”

Don’t be put off by the title. It’s just a play on “Sh*t My Dad Says,” there is no cussing–it’s very funny!

I hope they will consider doing a similar piece specifically for people with metastatic breast cancer. My suggestions would include:

  • Well, you never know. You could get hit by a bus.
  • They don’t seem to be doing much for you.
  • Sheryl Crowe says it’s from drinking out of plastic water bottles, especially if they have been sitting in the sun.
  • Have you tried mistletoe?
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39 thoughts on “Stuff People Say to People With Metastatic Breast Cancer

  1. Love this! Mind if I repost?

  2. katherinembc says:

    Sure thing! And thanks to my friend Janis for sharing the video with me.

  3. This is great, Katherine. Thanks for sharing Jenny’s spot-on video, and for your humor as always.

  4. Don’t forget the asparagus cure!

  5. ODL…..I think I’ve had every one of those things said to me. If I could add a few more to the MBC version:

    * don’t worry your hair will grow back when treatments done
    * all things considered you look pretty good
    * everybody gets tired once in awhile
    * don’t worry about my kids runny nose and cough. I haven’t caught it.
    * you’re not exercising enough

  6. katherinembc says:

    Ooooh, those are some good ones, Rach!

  7. wendy says:

    This was awesome.

  8. My all time favorite is (actually said to my hubby) “So, did they have to take ’em both off?”

    Thanks for sharing. So funny.

  9. Being Sarah says:

    Katherine thanks for the laughs here. Brilliant.

  10. MBCNbuzz says:

    Great. So funny. some of my own:

    Just be positive…

    You look so good! [are you sure it’s really metastatic?]

    oh, did you forget to have your annual mammogram?

    at least it’s the “good” cancer.

    maybe you should eat organic?

  11. Bahahah! Saw this earlier this week! Thanks for posting, K.

  12. daleevans says:

    “have you tried…” is a handy-dandy multi-use option that varies dramatically with people’s own health and nutrition habits. the single most common comment, the one that usually comes from perfectly nice people you know, but not all that well, and have little interest in discussing your health with, is “How are you FEEL-ing.” no question mark at the end, heavy dose of sympathy/concern on the FEEL-ing. Once I answered, fine, “how are YOU feeeeeling.”

  13. I saw the video, too… and it is HYSTERICAL. Besides the infamous phrases….. some of the facial expressions are priceless!!

    “You have such strong shoulders”

    “God never gives us more than we can handle”

    “There is a reason for everything”

    Carry on…. I will say one thing on behalf of all of us…. “Laughter is great” …. especially when we are on the inside of the circle laughing like this!

  14. Katherine, this is indeed priceless. Thanks for sharing. The list is sure to go on…and on…
    –Gayle

  15. Katherine,

    Thank you for this posting. Keep up with the list….

  16. Helen Barnett says:

    An insurance agent who was filling in while mine was on maternity leave, asked me what kind of cancer I had. It was obvious that I was a chemo patient, so I replied, “Breast cancer.” He said, “Well, my wife had cancer, too; not breast cancer, though. It was “down there” and sounded kind of like “Volvo.” As I was hastily gathering up my papers and heading for the door, he called out, “Well did they have to lop both of them off?”

  17. Great posting! When I took my days off work for chemo (used my vacation days), a co-worker told me how lucky I was that I could get these days off. WTF?

  18. Ethel says:

    I can identify with all of it. ” ya know there is a cure for metastatic breast cancer. I just read about it. Really.” “But you already had breast cancer, I thought you were cured”. “I have Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. No there is nothing higher than Stage 4.”
    And so it goes. I have to laugh, otherwise I would cry. Thank you all for the wonderful posts.

    • katherinembc says:

      Hi Ethel, on FB, someone with MBC reported that someone told her: “I have a friend who had Stage 5 cancer.”

      Maybe it is like getting a B+ in school or taking AP History….instead of doing an extra book report or building a diorama, you sign up for extra tests and appointments….

  19. Loved it! I have metastastic breast cancer … here are a few of my own:

    “Positive people live so much longer.”
    “So how long ago did you ‘have’ metastatic breast cancer?”
    “You’re STILL in treatment?”
    “Have you tried dried alligator skin?”
    “You’d be cured if you just spent an hour every week in an oxygen tank.”
    “You can’t have metastatic breast cancer … you look great!”

    And my personal favorite: “So what’s a metas … metatic … ….. what’s that word again?”

  20. linda says:

    “So, how long will you have to do treatment”

  21. jschoger says:

    Love it, love it, love it!

    And then I feel guilty for laughing at cancer.

    Until I read your line about mistletoe:)

    jms

  22. Lorene F. says:

    It’s interesting how some people seem shocked (and disappointed maybe?) that I spend most of my time trying to enjoy the time I have left, and also laughing a lot. I do not dwell on that which I cannot change, and I have never, ever, been seen to wring my hands while in the throes of agony and despair.

    Molly Ivens was a wonderful role model, and I miss her so much! I loved the newspaper columns where she focused on politics, and so regularly skewered congressional pompous asses known to get elected, and then re-elected to office, all the while demonstrating their ineptitude at understanding even the fundamentals of ethical behavior, governmental civics, and more recently, personal civility.

    My battle with breast cancer began nearly nine yers ago, and nearly five years ago I learned that the BC had metastasized to my bones. I went through all the usual stuff like denial, anger, etc., until I came through my personal darkness, and discovered that I still had a life to live, and that I wanted to live that life–no matter how long or short it is–with all the gusto I can manage!

    I am a 72-year old widow, with two grown, married daughters who live out-of-state. Until the end of this past September, I was able to live by myself. and drive the 46-mile round trip to see my oncologist for treatment. Then suddenly, I began falling down and had to call 911 twice. I ended up in my local hospital–where physical therapy was all but non-existent–and then after 17 days, was transferred to a nursing home in the city where my oncologist practices. I have great difficulty with my right foot, as I can no longer wiggle my toes, and can’t lift it more than a few inches. I can only walk a few feet with assistance. I will spend the rest of my life here, and I have learned that this too is just another transition, and I have made many new acquaintenances with both residents and the staff. I find that I can laugh here just as much, and as easily, as I could anyplace else.

    I truly believe that laughter really IS the best medicine, and I plan to go out laughing! I’m not going anywhere just yet. I think I still have several good months left, and will post on this blog from time to time.

  23. Pete Bevin says:

    “My aunt had breast cancer, she was fine!” “Was it metastatic?” “I don’t know, does that make a difference?”

  24. MJ says:

    My favorite is just the plain bald, “Well my aunt died of cancer. It was terrible.”

    Um, thanks for sharing that.

  25. Pink pats says:

    Some personally experienced favorites:
    “But you’re going to be okay, right?”

    “I’m so glad to see you looking better, I was worried about you”

    “is stage IV serious?”
    “well, Stage V is Death, so it’s pretty serious to me”

    “I still don’t understand why they didn’t remove your breasts”

    “oh wow, a free boob job, I’m so jealous!”

    “oh I love your haircut, how did you get it to look so cute?”
    “trust me, you don’t want to go thru what I did to get this hair style”

  26. […] found a host of other vocal, passionate, bloggers on the subject – bloggers like Katherine of i hate breast cancer. This week Katherine has been discussing the things people say to you when you have cancer […]

  27. afrochemo says:

    Love the video – might have to repost it…

    my fave ‘metastatic’ comments are:

    ‘bone cancer – but that’s terrifying !’

    ‘so, what’s your prognosis ?’

    ‘are you on medication ? yeah me too, co-codamol’

    ‘you’ll really suit a skinhead cut’

    ‘so when do you get given the all-clear ?’

    ‘you should’ve gone to the doctor’s sooner’

    ‘cancer’s no big deal any more, is it ?’

    bless them, so easy to get it wrong. I’m sure they all meant well ! : )

    Great post ! x

  28. rachelpappas says:

    So funny because I just wrote on this very topic yesterday and the first comment I included was the same as your first example – the getting hit by a bus one. The one that hurts me most is the people who refuse to discuss it period. I have a friend who has never once asked me how I was as she legitimately has a phobia and has admitted if she hears the word breast cancer she will convince herself she has it. Yet we talk about almost nothing but her husband’s leukemia and her role as caregiver. And I mean IN DETAIL. She says that’s different because she can handle output, just not input and that she’s not afraid of getting leukemia; just breast cancer. Are people strange?

  29. Donna says:

    Thank you! I’d seen the vid on BoingBoing and really wanted to know what she was saying — I’m deaf and the robo-closed captioning is really not up to the challenge of conveying wit and humor. I still don’t know what’s said in the vid but reading all the comments has been fab.

    My best pal and housemate Jen had a radical bilateral mastectomy last month — humor, amongst other things, is fueling her recovery.
    One of the 3 posts I wrote for/about her
    http://donna-tellmeastory.blogspot.com/2012/02/post-boobectomy-post.html

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