Insensitive comments come in a range of forms, from disapproval that you aren’t listening to the completely untested advice of Joe Bloggs on the street, to one ridiculous occasion when someone refused to believe I’d had cancer in the first place.
Let’s take a more harmless situation:
Saturday afternoon in a local pub. Red faces, caused by the combination of the summer sun and several pints, jostle at the bar. My elbows rest on the surface, my face a shade paler than those around.
Random Man: Hi! How are things? Not seen you at the gym in ages. Random Man tuts and shakes his head disapprovingly.
Me: I’ve not been very well.
Random Man: Yeah, I heard. When are you coming back? A few burpees would do you good. You can take it slowly; they’ll be easy on you.
Me: I can’t really run.
Random Man: You’ve got legs haven’t you? Looks down pointedly.
I shrug awkwardly. My drink arrives and I leave to find my friends.
This conversation clearly wasn’t the end of the world. Had I been feeling confident and positive, my inside monster would have rolled its eyes and I’d have carried on with my day. But right then and there, it made me feel rubbish. Yes, I had legs, so did people think I was lazy?
Maybe in his own misguided way he was trying to encourage me back to exercise? Maybe he didn’t know what to say? Maybe the big bull of mortality was pawing at his shoulder scaring him silly? He probably didn’t want to raise the subject, so became flippant instead.
Yet regardless of good intentions, I still felt crap. Misunderstood. Isolated. And this makes you defensive, your shackles rise and you become to expect the world does not understand. Next time you leave the house, you’re a little more reluctant, a little more averse to meeting acquaintances and having social interactions.
But we don’t want that! So what would have helped? Should I have been more honest? Like this?
Me: Actually I was discharged from hospital a couple of days ago after a massive internal bleed. I was in resus for 12 hours as they didn’t think they could stop it. I can’t run because I lost half of the blood that most people need to survive. My blood levels won’t recover for months so I’m seriously anaemic and the doctors still don’t know what caused the bleed; it could happen again. So no, as much as I’d love to, I really can’t run.
Yes, I do sound a little bitter, don’t I? Sounds a little like a tirade, no?
How far do you go? Should I explain the cancer, the diagnosis, the treatment, the prognosis, my mental state? This was a man who I wasn’t and had never been close to. How would he have responded to that?
It all leads to a dreadfully awkward situation.
So what tools do you have at your disposal to deal with silly comments and stop you feeling rubbish?
I've had a family member say the worst thing you could say to me during my diagnosis and treatment. I was very upset and I put her straight and basically told her that what she said was untrue and a crap thing to say. I then dismissed that family member as being a complete waste of my time in that subject area. I don't even inform her of my status or deal with her in that capacity, I passed that frustration to my hubby. It made my life better and the family relationship with her civil ever since I did that. I know I can't change her incompetence but I can work around it.
Just a very small thing but sometimes it hurts, sometimes rankles, sometimes I just ignore it and pity the ignorant idiot making a comment about my petite (but not minuscule) 5’2 stature which is the only real visible ‘reminder’ that (apparently) were it not for the chemo and radiotherapy aged 10 I would have been 3-4 inches taller. It’s a stupid thing, and I only very rarely tell the idiot the reason, which hopefully will at least educate their flippant / insensitive / prejudiced remarks for the future.