REQUEST for your input: comments too insensitive or rude to forget

After writing yesterday about comments that are upsetting or downright rude, I have been unable to escape the memory of that guy at the party who said I should consider stage 4 cancer as an opportunity to contribute to science. The words echo, and it makes me wonder how many others have heard comments from others that are bordering on rude. Ones, like Anne Marie Ciccarella mentioned in her post about having this disease because we are not praying hard enough or it’s nice that you’re getting this time off work. The list is surprisingly long and varied when I think of my own three-year experience with metastatic breast cancer.

The reason I bring it up again is to continue Anne Marie’s challenge for input or just to vent. Please share comments that have riled you up or which seem to go undetected as rude by some who defend those who deliver them as just not knowing what to say. My suggestion to such insensitivity: silence. Maybe some moms were burdened with too much to teach their children that instead of saying something that might be rude, it would be best to keep one’s mouth shut. My mom sure taught me that lesson, and I was at times one who was an unwilling learner.

Think back and please share comments that stung or enraged or otherwise left a bad taste in your mouth as well as your reaction or the reactions of others with you. I am sure most of us have one or two examples that pop into the mind quickly. After all, I don’t think any of us have escaped, at least, the suggestion that our cancer might not get us because we could very well be struck by that veering bus of doom. I wonder whether that bus is pink. Just sayin’.

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© 2004–2012 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.

15 responses to “REQUEST for your input: comments too insensitive or rude to forget

  1. Donna,
    I am going to share this with you because you are one of my heroes. I keep the “backstory” of my life under wraps because that part of my life is still very much up in the air. Here is quite possibly The Worst thing that I’ve dealt with. My husband (estranged…. we’ve been living apart but “play married” on weekends) persists in telling people that I am different since “cancer” and that “the chemotherapy changed me” ….. Tonight, I listened to that YET again… including the additional commentary from my stepson that was shared with me. “C’mon dad, you know she was always a little ‘off’ …” I am so upset and so sad right now. I gave SO MUCH over the past 20 years to help this man and to do the right thing by my step-son. To hear these remarks breaks my heart. Don’t we vow “sickness and health” …Yes, chemotherapy rearranged my brain. Thankfully, my bio son called tonight and reminded me of the roles I’ve played over the years to benefit everyone. How I took a back seat…… and how EVERYONE benefited from my willingness to put everyone’s needs before my own life. Still. It hurts. I stood beside everyone and always ran when a loved one was in need. To hear this crap about “chemo and cancer changed who I am” is just so disheartening. My son reminded me of things I’d forgotten. My son made me remember the sacrifices I made so others could move forward. My son reminded me, this time, NOW, belongs to me. That I am worthy. Today was a rough day, But, I’m still standing. And I stand beside you, Donna. With every ounce of support I have… because YOU matter. More than anything, YOU matter to me.

    With love,


  2. In the middle of chemotherapy, when I was bald as an egg, I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner. One of the other guests there commented on my radically changed hair style (she hadn’t seen me since before diagnosis, and didn’t know), and I explained that I had breast cancer and was spending my summer in the chemo lounge. She was shocked, and asked what I had done in my past that I had gotten cancer, like had I used heroin or lived a ‘bad’ lifestyle?

    It was so absurd that I burst out laughing, so absurd that I *almost* couldn’t be offended.

    I *get* the rationale behind the question – if there had been something I had done (you know, my crack whore days for example) that had led to my cancer, then *she* was safe – but still.

    • This is another leading contender in the “worst of the worst” comments about why we have this disease. I have had similar comments, though, yours is a definite winner in the Most Rude category. This one seems not to leave any room for explanation as asking the person with a deadly disease what was it in their history that they should have avoided so they would not be in this predicament now is wholeheartedly delivered with the kind of gusto that leaves the receiver completely flummoxed.

      It is again one of those that leaves this usually skilled-in-repartee individual at a complete loss except for the deer-in-the-headlights look that must be on my face. I have heard this in various forms more times than I can remember. This individual does not even try to communicate in a way that might be helpful or caring and must, sadly, claim the top spot on my Clueless List.

      Thank you for sharing.

      Love and hugs, Donna

  3. These comments and communications from “friends” and “family” are appalling.

    • I think that it is shocking the number of times people offer comments that are just so unbelievably weird and rude. One woman asked me if I pray because she was sure that if I did, my burden would be lifted if my faith was strong enough. Another woman said that I was lucky to be taking early retirement so I could enjoy life; she wished she had that option. The list continues longer than I think I could write on a sheet of paper. It seems people have no barriers when giving advice to others they think can use their advice. They apparently can’t stop themselves from even wondering whether they are choosing the right words.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for contributing your support.

      Love and hugs, Donna

  4. There are many clueless people out there – some just do not know what to say, some are just ignorant. Whenever someone says something insensitive, I just try to move on either by changing the subject or moving away from the person. I also hope that I have not been that clueless in any comments I have made to others. Unfortunately, cluelessness occurs with many illnesses. I have a daughter with bipolar disorder and I have been the recipient of many comments such as “it must be such a disappointment to you as a mother” as if my daughter has a character flaw instead of an illness or “do you think that being a working mother had any effect” as if I caused her illness.

    • Yes, clueless comments are not restricted to cancer. If I had not experienced this myself, however, I would not believe the comments to you about your daughter. I fail to comprehend how people feel that making such dimwitted remarks adds anything to the conversation between two people. I think that besides the folks who blurt out comments without thinking twice about saying anything at all, there is another group who seems to thrive on making what can only be described as insulting and belittling comments to others who are coping with a difficult situation. Anyone who does that seems to have some issues that perhaps make them a greater candidate for therapy than some of us experiencing stressful situations. Yet, they will continue to wallow in their ignorance and continue to make clueless comments to others as they go through life probably never looking back. We can only hope that one or two of these folks catches themselves sometime when they are alone and thinks, What in the world made me say that, and learns something from the reflection.

      Other than that, I have to say these are all contenders, and more than I thought, for the Clueless List. I really wonder if anyone would response from that group if I put out a call . . .

      Love and hugs, Donna

  5. These truly insensitive remarks baffle me. How can people say such hurtful, and certainly not helpful comments? Your reserve in not responding must take tremendous self-control. But possibly firing back with a good zinger once in a while might make them stop and think!

    • As someone who usually has a retort, I have been in the position of receiving one of these comments only to feel completely baffled myself and rendered speechless. Often with me it has come at a time when I was coping with a rough day and just trying to get through the day. When the comment was delivered, it made me feel as thought I was in the Twilight Zone, that I could not be hearing what I did hear. On other days when I have responded with a retort, I got a response that indicated they thought that I had a problem. In the long run I have thought that when people are so clueless, I will say something, but I do not expect to elicit a change. I think anyone who delivers these kinds of comments is not interested in learning more about how to communicate in such a situation; they are content with making a rash statement without basis that, in their minds, is not hurtful and is actually helpful. Prayers, alkaline water, various teas and vitamins. All of these are offered with assuredness that we probably don’t know about how effective they might be in curing us. We are the ones who are the ignorant in their minds, not them. They are seeking only to enlighten us.

      As I finish this day, I will compile a list of comments but I doubt that I will be able to choose a winner for the Clueless List. All of them will probably rank as a tie.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion and for your support.

      Love and hugs, Donna

  6. 1) Don’t take chemo, it’ll kill you.
    2) Did you know that fresh bee’s honey will cure cancer, here, put some on your grapefruit sized tumor and it will go away pretty quickly.
    3) Did you go through a radioactive area?
    4) You must be praying a lot, and be in pretty tight with God, did you get a message from Him about your lifespan?
    5) Do you think your husband will still want you now that you do not have breasts? or can’t have any more children?

    Now my standard comment to people in such horrible situations is: “I’m really sorry that you are going through this.”

    After 7 years, I am beginning to be able to laugh at what has been said to me.

    • Wow, that is a lot of comments to have heard, and yet I am not surprised. I have heard too many myself, but you have a few new ones. I have not heard the one about “going through a radioactive” area. I think this is where it is a good idea to remember that we have a sense of humor that we should continue to exercise well. It can be a challenge as we have those days that are agonizing and make it hard to laugh about a lot, but it does help to keep that sense of humor in running condition. Sometimes that is the only reaction that makes sense. It does us no good to get upset at all of these comments, and sometimes we have more than one or two a week. I know some women whose entire day is ruined because of one of these shamefully rude comments, and, honestly, I think it is not worth our energy. I think we need to conserve. Unless delivered by a family member or close friend, comments like these are best left to slide off the shoulder. They are not worth the thought to try to understand where they came from. If they come from someone close, it may deserve a discussion but at a time when we have the strength to deal with such a conversation.

      In the meantime, I think these are all contenders for the Clueless List, which I am really beginning to think I need to compile when I am done with this exercise.

      Thanks for writing and sharing.

      Love and hugs, Donna

  7. I got this twice one twice on Wednesday, “at least there’s always someone worse off than you.” How could I take comfort in that?!

    • I have not heard this one, personally, but I feel quite sure that I would be stricken speechless upon hearing it. I sure would like to know who would be worse off than someone with a life of pain and fear and constant treatment that fails at some point in a timeline that has no tick marks on it to give us a heads up. We all like to think this way, but anyone with a debilitating and degenerating disease that leads to death does not seem to have a lot of contenders in the “worse off” competition (not that we are competing, and I am not suggesting that we are but only using the phrase as an illustration for understanding).

      I don’t even know what to write except to say this individual is also a qualifier for the top of the Clueless List. You are right: how could you or anyone take comfort remark.

      Love and hugs, Donna

  8. I read something yesterday that really ticked me off. It was about how some people think people who die from cancer weren’t fighting hard enough.

    The one that really gets me every time is ‘Ten years ago, my cousin’s dog walker’s hair dresser’s nephew’s neighbor had a different treatment for their cancer, I can’t understand why you aren’t having the same thing.’ Every cancer is different. Shut up. I have one friend who constantly asked me why I wasn’t having the same treatment her mother did 17 years prior. Don’t make me start doubting my treatment protocol.

    • Thanks for sharing this all-too-common response to the query about how we are being treated. Not only do most people not understand that there are treatments for cancer other than chemotherapy and also that those of us with stage 4 cancer will continue on some kind of active treatment ad infinitum, many of them, who must know they are not experts, show a degree of shock in learning that, one, our treatment is different from their distant acquaintance of many years ago, and, two, our treatment is completely unique to each one of us. It amazes me how so many people who know nothing about cancer are in shock when told about the kind of treatments that are being used today.

      I do not think it is hard to explain when we have a willing listener, but the ones who deliver these comments seem to be the ones who think they know a lot more than our entire expert oncology team. Again, in this case the issue of communication lies forsaken as the inquiring party in this conversation is unwilling to listen, and, thus, unable to hear what we might have to say. This is another contender for the top of the Clueless List.

      Love and hugs, Donna

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