when words are most important

Some recent articles online having nothing to do with cancer have caught my attention about the importance of words. With the social networks influencing our abbreviated notations in order to achieve the thrifty specs of, say Twitter’s 140-character limit or texting in the least amount of time between meetings or phone calls, it is easy to construct an easily misconstrued message. Some say that our language is declining because of this and because many people are taking less time to write whole sentences with real words spelled correctly.  Commenting has become a way of life, whether it’s on Twitter or Facebook or any of the other common sites that allow critiquing and commenting or, the old-fashioned way, in person. In any case I still think finding the right words seems to be worth the time we take in order to show we care about what we say and to whom we say it. 

Recently, my blogger friend Anne Marie Ciccarella ran a challenge for input from the breast cancer community of comments they had received that were upsetting or irritating. I responded with two comments that are permanently noted in my memory book. One was from a guy who thought that my stage 4 cancer was an “opportunity to contribute to science” as they could study my body after my demise, and the other was the “You have such a great attitude, you will beat this” frequently heard from well-meaning friends and others. The latter is upsetting because stage 4 is not something one beats with attitude or even with all the drugs we have; it is incurable, and until that changes, our stories will ultimately end the same way. Death. Unless, of course, we get hit by that bus that we hear about so often. Oh, but that would be another comment on that list.

Which brings me to my main point. Recently, and very sadly, we lost two incredible women to breast cancer who were well accomplished in so many ways, as positive in their thinking as any one of us could possibly muster and had achieved more awards and recognition for their contributions toward breast cancer advocacy than many of us combined. Yet, this relentless stalker took one, Suzanne Hebert, board member of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, at age 47 after only seven years in her young life, and took the other, Katherine Russell Rich, at age 56 after 18 years, one of the longest recorded living patients with metastatic breast cancer. We have lost countless others who were also bright with much promise for continued success in their lives already filled with achievement in many areas outside of breast cancer advocacy. In fact, of all the women I know with metastatic breast cancer, they are all women with amazing stories to tell of successful careers, many with children they have raised during the worst times of enduring the ravages of metastatic breast cancer and its litany of ongoing treatments.

If positive attitude saved us from this disease, we would lose none of these extraordinary women who give so much to their families and friends and who give up so much fighting to cope with cancer and its treatment. For anyone who has thought of telling a friend with metastatic breast cancer that they will “beat it” because of their positive attitude, remember the shining examples of those with more than a positive attitude as I trust that you will click on their links to read about their amazing lives. Instead, consider “I am here for you” or “I’m thinking of  you,” honest expressions of support and caring rather than denial of the reality that your friend or family member is facing. This is a time when it is worth choosing your words carefully to let that person know that though  you may not understand what they are going through, you want to understand and to support her in whatever way you think you can. She will understand and appreciate that you don’t have the answers and are honestly not sure of what to expect.

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© 2004–2012 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.

4 responses to “when words are most important

  1. Donna,
    I just saw that Suzanne’s life was stolen by this dread disease and I wanted to say I am so sorry every time I read things like this. I popped over here because my blogroll is set up so I can see when a new entry gets written. As you were posting here, I was commenting on your words on my “writing challenge” …..

    My timing with that particular post wasn’t ideal. I like to stay “engaged” and that post generated lots of comments. I like to take the time to respond when anyone takes the time to leave me a comment. However, on Thursday….. I was HONORED to be asked to speak on the radio to get the word out about the release of Pink Ribbons Inc. The most touching and heart wrenching voices in that movie are those of the metastatic patients talking about how it’s NOT OK for people to be making money over their disease. Anyway… I JUST caught up on reading the comments on my blog and this is what I said about your words:

    “You just Blew MY Mind…. That guy is a MORON for many reasons on some many levels. One of the people on twitter said something best, “You can’t fix stupid.” That is beyond stupid. As for the rah rah attitude….. I just had a conversation about that. Attitude has nothing to do with survival and it’s wrong for anyone to suggest a positive attitude can alter an outcome. It demeans those who are no longer here. What? They weren’t positive enough??? Or, they didn’t pray hard enough, either????

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. Without minimizing anyone because we are all equal, for me, your voices, those who are living with a stage IV diagnosis, are the ones that matter most. I can empathize but I will never claim to truly understand what it’s like to live with metastatic disease. All I can say is this…… I will continue to make sure your voices are heard FIRST.

    Much love to you…..”

    and I continue to send MUCH LOVE and SUPPORT to you….

  2. Thank you for this post. I can’t imagine what it must be like for you to hear that you can beat this if you stay positive enough. It must make you feel like smacking something or someone from time to time. Your suggestions for what to say are simple and caring words, often the best kind.

    And I’m very saddened about the losses of Suzanne and Katherine. I’m saddened by all the losses to this wretched disease. Thanks again for writing.

  3. I cant keep track of the number of insensitive, stupid, hurtful comments I have received. I dont know what is wrong with people sometimes. Or did they forget their brains?

    • I think people do not know what to say. Instead of thinking for a moment that perhaps fewer words would be wise, they blurt out anything that comes to mind. Let’s face it, none of us, even we who are living this blasted death sentence, meet a lot of people on the street who have such a story. Most people are not good on their feet in saying something on the spur of the moment that requires thought. So, instead, they get that foot-in-mouth syndrome and blurt out the something that comes to mind that perhaps they regret later. Maybe I should write and ask people to write in who have made these comments only realizing later how insensitive it was and then knowing they could not take it back. So there is a question for us: would we appreciate it if that person came back to us and said, Hey, I don’t know what I was thinking . . . Communication is always a challenge in instances like this, and I just think human nature does not equip everyone with the good sense or the sensitivity to choose well.

      Love and hugs, Donna

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