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When they ask,"How did you get it?"

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

You can picture them seated across your living room, some shuffling and nervous, others wanting to be solemn and serious. The party of well-wishers has arrived. After a few hesitant gulps they will succeed in making appropriate eye contact with you. Their gaze is absorbing how you might look different, now that you have cancer. You can feel the question coming, right after the eyes widen and the head does a shake of disbelief. "I always thought you're healthy, how did you get it?"

Don't roll your eyes now. Your doctor visits, reading, and the experience of being a cancer patient have all made you very wise. Your friend on the other hand, not so much. Most of the time, you give some rehearsed vague answers. "My doctor says no-one really knows, its a random accident at the cell level". If you're lucky, the line of inquiry stops and the conversation is steered to giving you hope, wishing you well ,and offering you help. This type of courtesy visit may or may not be useful, but at-least you know its going to be brief.

Every so often your vague answers aren't going to be good enough for some. This is the first time they're meeting someone with cancer and they really want to 'get something out of this visit' This lot really needs to know what you did to deserve this. They'd much rather you said something like "I was a chain-smoker" or given them some other concrete cause - one that preferably isn't applicable to them! Yep thats what they need to safe.. this is not about you at all!

Let me explain this better. Picture yourself driving a car on the highway- you come across a bad car crash that likely occurred in wee hours of the morning. You look at the crushed metal and scattered glass and utter "He must have been drinking and driving" or "he probably dozed of at the wheel". In reality you have no clue about the circumstances around that accident. In that moment however, driving along the same highway you feel vulnerable. In making this unsubstantiated assumption that someone was drunk driving ,you've successfully reassured yourself that it wont happen to you. After all you are driving all alert and sober, refreshed after a good night sleep...nope, not going to happen to you.

You see, your cancer has made your ill-informed well-wishers feel vulnerable. They aren't asking about your cancer at all; they're talking of the cancer they're suddenly worried about getting someday. It just dawned on them that if a healthy happy being like you can get it, so can they!

These "poor souls" visiting you were never instructed on how to talk to a cancer patient. Most simply aren't smart enough to deal with what to them is a socially "testing" situation. At your end, you already have too much on your place and it simply isn't the time to re-evaluate relationships. You just roll your eyes and they get a free-pass.

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