Brace Yourself - Everyone Has Well Meaning Advice
It doesn't matter where you are, the grocery store, the pharmacy, even having a meal with family or friends; inevitably someone will insert themselves into your conversation or your personal space to give you their well-meaning advice. Anytime the word 'cancer' comes into the conversation, the armchair medical professionals seem to come out of nowhere. I've actually wondered if the word itself has an underlying tone when said that is only sensitive to this particular group of people - like those whistles that only dogs can hear.
When I was diagnosed de novo metastatic 5 yrs ago, it was on a Wednesday; by Monday of the following week, I had four emails, seven direct messages via Facebook from people I knew, thirteen from complete strangers, two books and three religious items. What they all had in common was that they all contained what each person believed was 'THE cure' to cancer. I was given information on what supplements and herbs to buy and in what order and method to take them. I was told stories of co-workers, sisters, neighbors, mailman who did a specific diet that involved standing on his head facing the west while chanting and was cured in two months - And that was ten years ago! Then there was the religious medals, prayer books, and blessed water; all sent with the promise that they held the divine intervention of whatever Saint and if I just followed the specific instructions included, I would be healed. It can be very difficult for folks to understand what it means to be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It's not the same as a diagnosis of early-stage disease.
The cancer conspiracy
All in all, I felt I was handling it all pretty well. I had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, getting bombarded with all kinds of advice, started a treatment plan and then IT happened. I was completely unprepared for the number of people that actually believe - strongly believe - that a cure for cancer already exists but it's locked away, hidden from patients because a cure isn't profitable. Everyone is conspiring against cancer patients - the government, the pharmaceutical companies, and the insurance companies. They are all in on it. They know what's going on and they want to keep doctors and patients in the dark. Here's the problem with that: cancer isn't one disease so there isn't now nor will there ever be just one cure. Those that subscribe to the cancer conspiracies also are adamant that traditional cancer treatments do nothing but shorten and/or end lives but here's the rub - the majority of these people have never had or been treated for cancer themselves. I am willing to bet that if any one of them were in my situation, the conspiracy theory would be quickly forgotten and would be thankful for all of the advances research has and continues to make.
Learning to say no
All of these unsolicited messages and let's call them 'suggestions', I received in the beginning about how I could return to my pre-cancer self felt sweet, at first. I appreciated that people cared about me and my health enough to try to help in any way they could. I wasn't actually going to take any of the advice, go to the suggested clinics or sprinkle my home in blessed water every third Friday of every month. I just thanked those individuals and followed my medical team's treatment plan, thinking that was that. What I didn't count on was some of the more persistent friends and acquaintances asking if what they offered was helping and making me 'cancer free'. I didn't want to be rude, after all, they were only trying to be helpful but not being honest meant that they would continue asking and possibly providing me with more 'helpful advice.' No, thank you, are three of the most underused words by cancer patients. So often, there's a feeling of obligation if offered something that's actually unwanted, like cancer cures. It's OK to say, No, not today, when you're not up for seeing people. There's no shame in just saying, No. I tried very hard to not hurt anyone's feelings. Then I had an epiphany - I'm the one with cancer. Everyone else should be going out of their way to not to hurt MY feelings or impose themselves upon ME. That was such a freeing feeling. From that day on, I have been able to politely, yet comfortably decline whatever is being offered that doesn't align with my treatment plan or what I am comfortable with. At the end of the day, I am the one living with my diagnosis. No one else can tell me how to "do" cancer. Unless someone has or until someone is going through cancer, don't be afraid to say, no, no thank you.
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