Let’s talk more about talking about it

I may not be working, but don’t say my days aren’t full. Over the past few days, I’ve had four chats with acquaintances about my health. Bear with me through my public debrief.

One well-meaning woman asked me if I was feeling better. To be fair, I may not have told her I had leukemia; I likely just said I hadn’t been well. Still, I was at a loss for words. I don’t know how I should have responded, but I know I was wrong in saying I wasn’t feeling better. Since I could have handled myself better, I get a Fail for that one.

Then there was the person I bumped into who asked about my health–she knew I had the big C–but in that “Poor you” kind of way I hate, accompanied by the pitying looks I hate even more. After a short chat, I asked her not to look at me that way. Not my finest moment. Another Fail for me.

Then, early one morning, in the public shower at the pool, I encountered another acquaintance who very astutely noted: “You must get those bruises from injecting yourself.” When I responded by telling her my platelets were low, she was wise enough to realize I might be ill and asked about my health. It seemed only fair at that point to disclose my leukemia, and so I did. She didn’t give me the pitying look, but asked several reasonable questions. I answered as honestly as I could. We had a quick chat and went on with our days. I got a Pass but she got an A+.

German shepherd puppy with quizzical look on face, head cocked to side

Did I hear you correctly?

Later that day, I bumped in to a woman I barely knew at the medical lab. She noticed my bruises and followed me out of the waiting room when I was finished because she felt my “energy was off”. And I thought I was having a pretty good day, notwithstanding having cancer and all. When I told her I had leukemia–I was trying to give her credit for her sensitive energy fields–she immediately asked me what my prognosis was.

In the past, I’ve tried to guide you, dear readers, on how to talk to someone who has cancer. Obviously my stellar insights have not reached this woman. I can tell you with assurance that you should not ask anyone who discloses she has cancer about her prognosis. It’s not something we Cancer Club members talk a lot about because it’s a little morbid, frankly. Sure, I think about how long I’ll live but I try not to focus on it because it brings me down. And anyhow, whatever my prognosis is, I plan to outlive it. Prognoses are based on averages, while I aspire to be the outlier. That’s me, striving for excellence in every endeavour!

So what did I tell this woman? I told her as far as I could tell I was still alive. And then ever so rudely I turned around and left. I know I should have taken the time to educate her for the next person, but I was weary by then, so I left that noble task for someone else. Rightly or wrongly, I gave myself a Pass for this one, but she got an automatic F.

Now, if you guys could just hold off on the health questions for a few days, I could use a little breather. Thanks.


5 thoughts on “Let’s talk more about talking about it

  1. The correct response would be “You know, you’re right, my energy is off! I think it’s my moron-indicator flashing, which drains my energy reserves. Could you step a bit further away please?”


  2. I am curious: How come do you feel like you should not have told the person you aren’t feeling better? Is it that your answer was dishonest or you felt like a downer?

    If it is the latter… I know everyone is different, but since I began working on not feeling guilt for being the bearer of uncomfortable news (Nope, still feeling the same but continuing to fight and hope), I have felt very free! I figure if they’re opting to ask a health question rather than a inquiry about the state of my life in general, or even a personal inquiry on something like my upcoming wedding… I can just answer honestly! If they don’t like the truth, they will stop asking because I rarely bring up my illness on my own. I used to feel guilt when I saw their disappointment that I’m not getting much better right now.

    I’m speechless on the woman who wanted your prognosis…


    • Hi Jackie. You make a good point. I don’t know if I feel guilty for responding to that woman as I did but I do feel I could have handled her inquiry differently. I agree that I can respond honestly; I just think I could have done so in a more delicate way. By not explaining myself, I left this woman feeling awkward and I could have spared her that if I were more honest with her. That’s the part that didn’t feel fair of me. Thanks for your insight. Annie


      • I see what you mean about not elaborating and giving her a way to respond appropriately to the news of you not feeling better.


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