QUESTION: I’m in the middle of treatment and my cancer seems to be the only thing that people can talk about. It’s not that I’m trying to ignore everything, but I am more than a sick person and I do more things than get chemo treatments! Could we talk about the new Avengers movie? Or the Red Sox? Or anything else please! – MORE THAN A PATIENT
Dear More than a Patient,
You’re absolutely right. It is extremely frustrating when everyone around you wants to talk about the one thing you would rather ignore. It’s hard to maintain a self apart from your cancer when that is what everyone sees when they look at you.
The good news is, they all really care about you. Most people aren’t with you all the time, so they only ever think about your cancer in small increments, which aren’t as overwhelming. When they see you, they are genuinely trying to show their concern and help as much as they can – which is not something people know how to do.
In your case, it would probably be best to just take control of the conversation from the offset. Right when people walk in the door, say something like, “Great to see you! Did you catch the game last night?”. Most people will take their cue about how to act from you. If you are calm and relaxed and talking about baseball, which is probably something they would like to discuss as well, they will follow your lead. Or, if they manage to get in a question about how you’re feeling, you could answer and then move forward, “Same as always. Did you catch the game last night?”. The key is to redirect the conversation where YOU want it to go.
The unfortunate thing is, this will happen for the rest of time. There will be many times in your life when you’ll want to start a story with “This one time, I had cancer and….“, so redirecting the conversation is a valuable skill to learn. Good luck!
What would you rather talk about during cancer treatment? How did you maintain your separate, non-cancer identity?
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