Words Matter

"Having such a simple question asked a certain way can really humanize you during a time when normalcy seems like the distant past."

"How are you feeling?" If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question, I wouldn’t have any more student loans.

No matter the occasion, whether a family party or just a casual run-in at the mall, cheerful pleasantries quickly turn to fear and concern. "Are you okay? How are you feeling?"

It’s hard to admit, but sometimes friends and family say irritating or hurtful things. I know every word and question is well-meant, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. When I’m asked those questions, it just reminds me that I’m sick, and it’s serious.

Dealing with a brand new cancer diagnosis, especially one you know almost nothing about, can take a long time to process. It's been more than two years and I'm still dealing with all kinds of emotions because of it.

The toughest day was Easter 2014 - the year I was diagnosed. I had about ten days prior to the holiday to prepare for the questions. I wanted to scream to the world that I was terrified and unsure and needed help dealing with my feelings. But I thought that asking for help or support would make me weak and vulnerable. What I really needed was someone to come right out and ask me how I was doing, not how I was feeling. Asking how I’m doing acknowledges that I am a human being, and that there is much more going on than just cancer.

I was still Mary. I still had the same parents, same car and same clothes. Why should being a little extra sick make a difference?

Having such a simple question asked a certain way can really humanize you during a time when normalcy seems like the distant past. I yearned for someone to actually call me to make plans instead of leaving it open ended. “Let me know if you need anything.” The last thing I felt like doing was reaching out for help. I know it sounds very silly to people who haven't dealt with it, but it's very real. All we want is a shred of normalcy. Sure, I can't go out for cocktails at happy hour, but I can make some great pina colada smoothies to drink on the back deck.

Dealing with cancer as a young adult is really rough on your social life. Having friends and family who treat you like your normal self can make a huge difference, especially on the bad days. It’s not about hiding the fact that you’re going through cancer or pretending like it doesn’t exist. It’s about remembering that you are not defined by your diagnosis.

Interested in being featured on Roswell Park Cancer Talk? We would love to hear from you! Help us give strength to other young adult patients, survivors, caregivers, family and friends by sharing your personal story.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.