Until I started chemo I was unaware of just how gruelling, tedious and sh*t it can be. It can be hard to know what to say to a person who is riding the chemo train. You want to offer them comfort, you want to help, but what can you say?
Just Reach Out
I’ve previously shared my thoughts on what NOT to say to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer and I’m now sharing my thoughts on what NOT to say to someone who is going through chemo. As always, it’s very tongue in cheek and if you have said any of the below things, then please don’t be offended that I’m sharing them. Just read why it really wasn’t the best thing to say to me ;-). As always, I really appreciate all the people who reach out to me, those who engage me in conversation, who stay in regular touch. It’s the silence that I struggle with. So, even if you put your foot in it – I don’t mind, at least you are talking to me, at least you are trying to help. Plus, chances are that you have made me laugh ;-).
You Never Know With Chemo
My knowledge of chemo was restricted to what information I had gleaned from friends that had been through chemotherapy themselves. However, they had received chemo for different cancers to mine. What I didn’t know was that there are different combinations of chemotherapy for different cancers. Still, you can be on the exact same combination of chemo as the person next to you and you could both react completely differently with varying side effects. That’s why chemo is such a tricky beast and that’s why anyone going through chemo needs all the support they can get.
5 Things You Shouldn’t Say To A Person Who Is Going Through Chemo
“Piece of cake chemo. My friend had it and was fine, it was after the ops that it all went downhill. She nearly died”
Where do I even start with this one? As a teacher we had a phrase – the sh*t sandwich. The idea being that you would tell the parents the one really bad bit of news sandwiched between two positives. It softened the blow. For example – Little Jonny is really good at performing. However, he is massively below target for his predicted C grade and he really needs to start focussing on his work or he will fail his GCSE, but what a popular member of the class he is.
I can only assume that Janet was trying to deliver me my very own sh*t sandwich, except she went batsh*t crazy with that crappy filling. Let’s tackle this quote two-fold. When Janet delivered this bombshell I wasn’t sure how to react. I seem to remember that I stood still, mouth gulping for air.
Chemo Is Never Cake
Firstly, chemo is never going to be a piece of cake. Please never compare chemo and cake. I love cake, I hate chemo. If your friend was lucky enough to escape any side effects then that’s brilliant. I’m really happy for them. However, like I’ve said before, there are many different combinations of chemo and your friend’s experience won’t necessarily be mine. But I’m betting that your friend did experience some side effects but she didn’t want to be seen moaning, so she was very stoic and kept all of her side effects to herself. There is a lot to be said for bravely battling it on your own and not sharing your side effects. That’s not me though, I’m sharing my side effects so I can educate all the Janets out there ;-).
Secondly, “It was after the ops that it went downhill”. Sh*t the bed, Janet. You know that I am going to have two ops. Do you think it was going to be appropriate to share this with me? I will be having an ileostomy which I’m hoping it’s temporary. But for a while I will be crapping into a literal bag. Do you know how scary that is? The last thing I need to hear are scary stories about how your friend nearly died. I’m already very literally sh*tting it.
“I know exactly how you feel”
No, you really don’t, because you’re not me. I’m a pedant when it comes to the English language, it’s the ex-teacher in me and the word that I take offence to here is “exactly”. You can’t know exactly how I am feeling because you aren’t in my head. You don’t know how I wake up every morning feeling relieved but also my stomach churning with fear. You don’t know how my heart breaks every single time I look at my children. If you are Barbara, whose friend of a friend went through chemo 20 years ago, then I’m sorry Babs, you don’t how I feel.
Cancer Is A Cow
However, if you are Derek who is 78 and went through chemo two years ago. I appreciate that you might have an inkling of what I am dealing with but again, sorry to be pedantic, but you don’t know “exactly” how I feel. Just like I would never assume I knew exactly how Derek felt to be going through chemo later in life, when quite frankly he should have been able to put his feet up and enjoy his retirement with a pina colada on some sunny beach, instead of enduring chemo. Cancer is a cow and it comes at the most inconvenient time.
As anyone going through chemo will tell you, they might have an idea of how you feel but they don’t know exactly how you feel. I would never assume that I know exactly how they felt. I’m a young mum. I’m dealing with the possibility that my treatment may take me through early menopause, there is the worry of incontinence, and the fact that I may have to sh*t into a bag permanently. That’s just some of the possible consequences. But most of all I am dealing with this and looking after my two young children. They are a daily reminder that I have to fight this for them. However, they also remind me that I might be taken from them far too soon.
“Why do you still have your hair?”
Janet, why are you so rude? Not all chemo makes you lose your hair. I know, shock, horror. I do have another list of side effects though. Would you like to hear them? ;-). I feel incredibly lucky about my hair. I was told that it would probably just get thinner and it has but luckily for me I had an out of control bird nest amount of hair to start with. Don’t just assume that someone will lose their hair on chemo and don’t ask them why they still have hair. Instead, tell them how fabulous their hair is looking.
“You can’t be that bad, you are glowing”
Ahhh, there it is again, that backhanded compliment. What can I say, it must be the chemo glow. The poison means I glow at night. You don’t need a bedside lamp when you are sharing a bed with me 😉
I’m sorry to break it to you but I am that bad. This morning I was sh*tting and vomiting out of both ends at the same time, and I was at a loss with what to deal with first. My fingers hurt so much that I have given up wearing bras. I’ve had blood taken from me 6 times this week, one time they had to jab me twice as they couldn’t get any blood to come out, another time the blood came out so fast that it ended up spurting everywhere and I nearly puked and passed out as a result. I’ve spent a night in hospital because I picked up a bacterial infection from somewhere. Plus, look at my face Janet, look really closely. The chemo is ravaging my skin. It’s dry and under the skin are hundreds of bumps. But yeah, I’m not that bad and I guess I have a bit of glow, it’s the bronzer I cake on my face 😉
“Have you tried juicing? I read a story about a person who cured themselves of cancer from juicing”
Come again? Yes, I have tried juicing. In fact, I have juiced for years. Once I juiced for 7 days straight on a health kick. I was an idiot back then. I ended up feeling delirious and I had nightmares about celery galloping down the street after me. I lost some weight……and then put it on again as soon as I started to eat like a normal person. We have teeth for a reason. We need to chew. I will supplement my diet with juices but I also need food. I love that you are reading articles and thinking of me but juicing won’t cure my cancer. I wish it could, but cancer is a crafty bugger and it needs really strong medicine. It needs chemo. It will be the chemo that cures my cancer (fingers-crossed), not lovely juices….sadly
There Is No Right Or Wrong
There you go, 5 things you shouldn’t say to someone who is going through chemo. In reality there is no right or wrong thing to say to anyone going through chemo. Just show them that you are thinking about them, try and make them laugh, cry with them and hold their hair back if they have an urge to vomit. Just do your best to show them that you are there. Riding that chemo train can make you feel very alone.
Now if you will excuse me, I can hear the choo choo of the train approaching. It must be time for my next chemo tablets.
At the end of May I will be taking part in the Cancer Research Research Race For Life. If you would like to sponsor me you can do so here. Thanks to all of the amazing people who have kindly donated. Together we are making an incredible difference. With you on my side I feel like I can do this.