How To Handle Questions About Your Breast Cancer

How to handle questions about your cancer when you just don’t feel like talking about it... This was and remains a tough one for me. Even now a couple of years after my diagnosis, I still find myself stuck in uncomfortable situations. The questions, that come from well-meaning friends or acquittances pop up in the most unexpected places.

Reconnecting after a breast cancer diagnosis

Just yesterday I was on a zoom with a dear friend in England, who I have talked to many times during and since my diagnosis and surgery. We started to talk about an upcoming surgery she is having and tips on how to recover well etc. Then out of the blue, she asked me “So is there a chance your cancer can come back?” I froze… it was an innocent, although not well thought out question on her end, it made my stomach turn. I sat there with a blank stare for what felt like an hour and said softly “ I don’t know”. Instead of immediately explaining my answer I paused, and added, “The doctors say the chances of that are very low”. She had a visibly relieved look on her face, and I could see that her question was rooted in love, but it still hurt me. We exchanged a few other filler sentences for a couple of minutes, and just as the subject was about to change, I built up the courage to ask her an uncomfortable question. "Why did you ask me if my cancer could ever come back?" I said. She could tell now that I was surprised and a bit upset. My friend replied without missing a beat, “I was hoping you would say there is never a chance of it ever coming back.” I could see her love for me in her eyes, and her intention being so kind and thoughtful, but it still didn’t change how her question made me feel. I realized that although people love me and they mean well, the things they ask can sometimes trigger feelings that are so painful. I know that my friend had no idea that asking that question, would cause me to now think about something that I work really hard to keep in the back of my thoughts.

Not knowing what to say to someone with breast cancer

These situations can pop up anywhere, the grocery store, school pick up, even church, and completely catch you off guard. The reality is we cannot expect people to know what to say, but we can focus on our reactions and our own feelings so that when these situations come up, they don’t hijack the entire day. Truth is the reason my friend’s question was so upsetting to me is that I am scared. As you all know once you have had breast cancer it becomes part of who you are and you think about all the possibilities. However, it’s also an opportunity to take control of your thoughts and redirect the conversation where you would like it to go.

Are you able to express yourself in uncomfortable situations?

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