Once a mere greeting, the ‘How are you?’ question holds new meaning. Since cancer, it’s spoken a little differently, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you?’ with an assessing look, up and down, as if you’re being scanned for ill health.
Small talk, that saviour of awkward conversations, no longer provides quite the same haven for us. ‘How are you?’, being the very first thing people ask, throws us in the deep end rather too quickly.
It can make social situations horrible: you don't want to be asked about your health repeatedly, all evening. Aren’t there more scintillating topics?
Sometimes, before you can even respond, a leading question might follow: ‘Everything’s OK now, right?’ or ‘You look so much better.’ An automatic nod might move the conversation along, a helpful get out clause. The topic can be avoided, if you so wish, those vague acquaintances need not know your darkest health concerns.
Many worry about over-sharing, particularly when away from the protective bubble of close friends. We don’t want to moan; don’t want to project ill health or frailty. You don't want to be seen as ‘cancer-girl’, or 'cancer-boy', or 'cancer-man' or 'cancer-woman' whatever the case might be. There’s much more to you than that.
Yet that leading question, or the statement that ‘You look so much better’ can sometimes feel like its begging to be addressed. You may find yourself sharing all your health woes to explain why you aren’t being the happy, healthy person they expect you to be. It makes you feel like you are defending your ill health or disability and boy, does that get depressing.
Perhaps by picking one area of your health that's concerning you, you can be honest, without sharing everything?
'There’s a lot going on, but I just wish I could get over the fatigue. I feel tired all the time.'
And to avoid the follow-up platitudes, perhaps you move the conversation along: ‘Not much can be done unfortunately. I hope time will help. But what about you?’
‘I’m Fine, Thank you Very Much.’
Some people don't think twice about just not answering questions on health – what business is it of anyone else’s? Being 100% honest can make you feel vulnerable, particularly with acquaintances.
While some use avoidance when asked how they are.
‘I’ve been spending so much time with my family. We’ve been…’
Or they just shrug expansively and move on to another topic.
Or there's distraction - answering a question with a question:
‘How are you?’
‘Oh, you know. How’s work? Weren’t you looking for a job?’
Perhaps you're someone that just doesn't care. What does it matter what others think anyway? You've been through too much to start worrying about this human humdrum of nonsense.
Either way, with time you start to get more comfortable in your new skin. Health questions stop bothering you quite so much.
How do you respond?
I just say "the last time they looked I was good to go, so it doesn't get any better than that " If conversation continues on the same theme I say when my last scan was, and when the next one is scheduled. And then just smile 😊😊
When asked how I am and I know they just want to get the conversation over - I used to try and explain even though I have had the all clear life isn’t as rosy as I would have hoped. I sometimes feel like saying “ Walk in my shoes for a week!