“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22
This has been a rollercoaster month.
Healing cancer naturally has been nothing like I anticipated. After all my research, following instructions and advice of others who are healing their bodies too, and holding on to hope against all odds, I sincerely thought my journey would be different. Less painful or stressful somehow. Boy, was I ever wrong! But through all the ups and downs, one thing has remained the same: God’s faithfulness.
However, throughout the past seven months, there have been a lot of well-meaning people who just don’t “get” what I’m going through. Like, AT ALL. I’ve been very surprised and disappointed with the reactions, the comments, the questions that seemingly lack a filter. I want to just throw my hands up sometimes and yell, “Would you want ME to say these things to you if YOU were going through a similar situation?!”
Disclaimer: this post may sound a little sharp or snarky, so I apologize in advance for offending anyone — however, this is real life, and I’m the actual cancer patient who’s been fielding these questions and statements.
So, without further ado, what NOT to say to someone dealing with cancer or chronic illness:
“Aww, still not feeling well?”
No. I “still” have a tumor in my tongue, my lymph nodes in my neck are the size of lemons, and I’m living off of pain meds. I’m completely dependent on someone else for everything from cooking to driving me to appointments (God bless my amazing family). This is a bit bigger than a cold or a headache. PLEASE STOP ASKING ME THIS!
Hmmm, let me get my crystal ball and tell you my future. (Also, click the link to read my response to this question back in August.)
“When will you be feeling better?”
Again…HOW WOULD I KNOW THAT. *face palm*
“How do you know you’re doing the right thing?”
Does anyone truly know if they’re doing the “right thing” for their disease? The body is a complex organism and, just as the amazing surgeon who placed my subclavian port told me, we have barely scratched the surface of what we actually know about it! Bio-individuality is a real thing — what works for you (conventional or alternative) could have a completely different outcome in my body. We need to constantly remember how unique we are! I can only hope for the best outcome. Without testing every single day or doing the standard-of-care, conventional treatment which would remove my ENTIRE tongue and MAYBE eradicate the cancer cells (and every healthy cell along with it, and still only have a 50% chance of making it to the five-year mark with this particular type of cancer anyway!), I’m taking my chances on the Great Physician, no matter how long this healing may take.
“Are you scared? You’re always so upbeat!”
I’m never quite sure how to answer this question when asked by complete strangers who know my Instagram or read my blog. Thank You, Lord, that Your light shines through me and encourages others. But seriously? Should I be wallowing in my fear 24/7? Posting depressing paragraphs on social media? Would that make me more of a cancer patient? Or maybe if I had my head shaved and wore a bandana? I’m not sure how much more I can prove to the watching world that I actually have an awful cancerous tumor IN MY MOUTH that literally affects EVERYTHING from speaking to eating to sleeping to just LIFE in general…but the difference is I’m not letting my mind and emotions park themselves in depression or fear! I just refuse to lose hope and the confidence I have that Christ is my Healer and my strength, no matter what happens to my earthly body!
“What does your daily life look like now that you’re on disability? Lots of free time must be nice!”
Wow. Just wow. Believe me, if I didn’t have to be on disability, I WOULDN’T BE. I’m not sitting around all day eating ice cream, planning my next vacation and throwing parties! You want an honest picture of a day in the life of Sabrina lately? (Warning, this is real talk and not for the squeamish):
- Wake up after a fitful night of “sleep”, being careful to get out of bed (or the couch, depending on how my lymph nodes were feeling) gingerly and stretching against the stiffness of surgery, injury, and new repair
- Bathroom to check on the tumor area in the tongue, deal with any built up drainage and sometimes pieces of the tongue/tumor dislodging, rinsing a lot of blood from my mouth and very, very carefully brushing my teeth
- Lightly massaging the neck lymph nodes with essential oils to get the circulation going
- Slowly make my way to the kitchen, line up all my supplements, down a couple glasses of water and yogurt to coat my stomach for the pain meds, pace a bit against the throbbing ache in my face and neck, open the fridge a few times and consider making a breakfast with eggs but debating whether I can actually chew today or if a smoothie is a better choice (this can take up to an hour of clearing my brain enough to actually follow through with a decision, especially if I’ve just had treatment the day before and the pain is especially fun)
- Make myself some herbal tea and head to the couch to bury myself under blankets and figure out my schedule for the day ahead (IV? Infrared sauna? Lymphatic drainage massage? Injections? Hyperbaric Oxygen? Doctor appointments? Really, the possibilities are endless!)
- At this point, I’m either recharged enough to get myself dressed for whatever appointment I’ve made (and I can’t remember the last time I did my makeup or didn’t have my hair in a messy bun), or I’m feeling so drained I need to take a rest day from treatments and end up sleeping some more. Or mindlessly watch Netflix and complete pages in my coloring books, since I’m too tired to read or write
- Repeat until “bedtime”. You get the picture. So, it SHOULD be obvious that I’d much rather be at work and living a healthy, normal existence without being disabled!
“You know, you should do XYZ…”
Unless I ask, please keep your opinions about what I’m choosing to do with my body to yourself. Until you go through something like this, you have no idea how much time and effort you’ll put into research, prayer, seeking answers, taking the road less traveled, interviewing others about their experiences, questioning and getting opinions from multiple doctors and medical professionals. It’s exhausting enough on a daily basis without having to explain to you why I’m choosing a route you may or may not approve of.
“I could never go through what you’re going through. You’re so strong.”
When life hands you a crisis, everyone has the same choice to make — choose to truly live through it, or let the crisis defeat us. Every single human on the planet goes through something tragic or life-altering (and if you can’t think of anything right now, believe me, it’s still to come). And you CAN go through it, learn from it, and be stronger on the other side because of it. It’s a choice, not a superhuman power.
There are other crazy things that have been said, but that’s the gist of it. The best advice is if you don’t know what to say, just DON’T SAY ANYTHING.
What CAN you say to someone going through a situation you aren’t familiar with? Offering encouragement, prayer, positive vibes, and the “What can I do to help?” goes a LONG way in our world. Just knowing you’re there and are thinking about us. This is a temporary situation, and when we look back a year from now and can shake our heads in wonder at how far we’ve come, that’s a different story. But in the meantime, learning to be conscientious of your chronically ill friend or family member by filtering your words through the lens of what YOU would want to be talking about in that situation is honestly the best thing you can do!