Breast cancer: Etiquette
October 15th, 2010
08:48 AM ET

Breast cancer: Etiquette

This week Amanda Enayati will share the milestones of a life-altering journey that began the day she learned she had late-stage breast cancer more than three years ago.

Today let’s discuss cancer etiquette. I would call it serious illness etiquette but I thought I would specialize since cancer is what I know and, who knows, maybe the rules are different from disease to disease. (And yes, every one of the following has happened to me at some point.)

Finding out someone has cancer is awful. It is a cruel disease, which will strike one out of every two Americans. Hearing the bad news is shocking and devastating but it’s probably more shocking and devastating for the cancer victim than it is for you.

So pull yourself together.

You can be authentic, show a little emotion, maybe even shed a tear but for the love of God don’t make it about you and certainly don’t put the cancer patient in the position of having to console you as you sob, beat your chest and yell “Why? Why, God?’ up at the heavens.

Rein yourself in for a minute or two, and let the sick person set the tone. Maybe she wants you to hold her hand and cry with her. Maybe she just wants you to sit and listen. Or maybe she wants you to list the 101 reasons she will survive. Her call. Not yours.

If you don’t know what to say, don’t worry. Any variation of “I’m really sorry,” “I love you,” “My prayers/thoughts are with you” is perfectly okay.

If you find out someone has cancer from someone else, do not call her, burst into tears and sob: “Why do all the good ones have to die?” Yes, it’s true that all the good ones have to die. But all the bad ones have to die too. We all die sometime. Besides, it’s probably not okay to pronounce a living person, who is sitting there on the other end of the phone line, dead from something that they are more than likely hoping to beat (even if they don’t admit it).

Which leads me to my next point, and that is that the cancer patient may or may not die from that particular cancer. There are lots of folks who survive cancer—both early and late-stage—and never have a recurrence, even when the doctors anticipated a high probability that they would. I have read accounts of people who were given weeks and days to live—people who are still living decades later. Recovery is a function of many things and one of them is grace, something that none of us can ever begin to predict or quantify.

Next rule: Don’t look up the odds. Don’t point out the odds. Don’t confirm the cancer patient’s worst nightmares.

What’s that? You’re just being “realistic?” Well, shove the realism up your unmentionable bits and keep it there.

Don’t give anyone struggling with cancer a moniker that contains the word ‘cancer’ in it. Someone I love kept calling me Cancer Girl, like I was a superhero or something. Even in the throes of dealing with it, I didn’t want to hear the word cancer, much less have it associated with me as a nickname, and so I wanted to punch him in the nethers each and every single time he uttered the words. (But I didn’t. I didn’t say a word. I am now, though. Don’t do it.)

Say you’re an acquaintance of someone who’s dealing with cancer, make sure that every time you run into her, your face doesn’t crumple into a look of sorrow, your eyebrows knit together over a pair of puppy-dog eyes as you whine: “How are youuuuu?” in a soap opera voice. She probably was fine until the moment she laid eyes on you and now you’ve ruined the rest of her day with your faux pity.

On the other hand, when the patient is going through treatment, don’t ever tell her she looks bald, skinny, bloated, ashy, gray, red, sickly, even if it’s true. Lie if you need to. Tell her that she’s glowing, beautiful, vibrant, alive. (All of these rules apply to both men and women, by the way.)

One day when I was in the middle of chemo, my daughter’s nursery school teacher said to me: “Aren’t you supposed to be looking worse during chemo? How do you get more beautiful every day?” I swear I wanted to leave my husband right then and there, and marry this woman. I will adore her for life, not because of some compliment that more than likely wasn’t true, but because of her generosity of spirit and the gift of hope that she gave me through a few simple words uttered with pure intentions.

Listen. This is particularly important. When the person is in remission, say, one or two years out from treatment, hell, even six months out from treatment, don’t keep bringing up cancer every time you see them. Say you happen to run into the person in a social situation where everyone’s talking about the weather or politics or those crazy celebrities and their nutty antics, please please please don’t say anything like:

Your skin looks SO great, not like all the other times I’ve seen you when you looked so sick and kind of yellow, you know? Maybe even almost green. Like you weren’t doing so well. But now your skin looks like a healthy person’s skin. Even your hair. Hey, how often do you go to the oncologist? When is your next appointment? How are you feeeeeling?”

Because I promise you the person, no matter how polite she’s being, isn’t taking it well. If she wanted to bring it up, she would have. Because, with a few exceptions we can discuss at some point, she has either already moved on or is trying to move on. She’s hoping to forget the horrors she endured. She doesn’t want to relive it. She certainly doesn’t want to be reminded of it in a social situation. And so more than likely, she wants to take your smug little face and do violent things to it. Even if her face is a perfectly arranged mask of social civility.

Any questions?

Amanda Enayati’s work has appeared in Salon, the Washington Post, Detroit News, and "Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora" (University of Arkansas Press). You can follow her on Twitter @AmandaEnayati or her daily blog, practicalmagicforbeginners.com.

Post by:
Filed under: Cancer

soundoff (1,613 Responses)
  1. Van Sliding Door Repair

    Very good post. I will be going through many of these issues as well..


    May 20, 2021 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. fiberglass rv repair


    May 20, 2021 at 22:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Dent Repair Riverside

    Hi there! This article couldn’t be written any better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a very good read. I appreciate you for sharing!


    May 20, 2021 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RV Cabinet Riverside

    I truly love your website.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you develop this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m hoping to create my very own website and want to find out where you got this from or what the theme is called. Thanks!


    May 20, 2021 at 22:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. orange county truck shop


    May 21, 2021 at 00:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. what kind of paint to use on a horse trailer

    The next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won't fail me just as much as this one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I actually thought you would probably have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something that you could fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.


    May 21, 2021 at 01:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Mercedes Sprinter Service Center Near Me

    After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be an easy method you are able to remove me from that service? Appreciate it!


    May 21, 2021 at 02:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. AnooEncox

    viagra hangi hastalД±klarda kullanД±lД±r https://llviagra.com/ – hvordan fГҐr man viagra viagra in christmas tree

    May 21, 2021 at 04:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. RebfZisse

    cialis 20mg https://rcialisgl.com/ cialis 60 mg

    May 21, 2021 at 04:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. RV Bathroom Riverside


    May 21, 2021 at 04:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. orang shops


    May 21, 2021 at 06:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Sprinter Van Repair


    May 21, 2021 at 07:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. RV Remodeling Near Me


    May 21, 2021 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. RV Flooring Riverside


    May 21, 2021 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. dj rv center

    An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a friend who was doing a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch simply because I stumbled upon it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this issue here on your web site.


    May 21, 2021 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. RV Bathroom California

    This is the right site for anybody who hopes to find out about this topic. You realize a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a subject that's been discussed for years. Wonderful stuff, just great!


    May 21, 2021 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. drone repair orange county


    May 21, 2021 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. nearest rv repair

    After looking into a number of the blog posts on your site, I seriously like your technique of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back in the near future. Please check out my web site too and let me know your opinion.


    May 22, 2021 at 00:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. tow truck repair shop

    This is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Short but very accurate info… Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read post!


    May 22, 2021 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. JebgEncox

    Cefadroxil http://pharmacylo.com/ cvs pharmacy online

    May 22, 2021 at 03:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. chloroquineorigin

    buy chloroquine online chloroquine price in india chloroquine tablets buy chloroquine online canada https://chloroquineorigin.com/

    May 22, 2021 at 03:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Video Marketing Consultants


    May 22, 2021 at 04:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Social Media Marketing Service

    Howdy! I just would like to offer you a huge thumbs up for your excellent info you have got here on this post. I am coming back to your website for more soon.


    May 22, 2021 at 04:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Video Marketing Companies Near Me

    I love reading through an article that can make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!


    May 22, 2021 at 05:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Internet Marketing Consultant


    May 22, 2021 at 05:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. travel trailers orange county


    May 22, 2021 at 06:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Furniture Orange County

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you ought to write more on this issue, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people do not discuss these issues. To the next! Cheers!!


    May 22, 2021 at 06:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Internet Marketing Services Near Me


    May 22, 2021 at 07:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. rv slide out repair parts


    May 22, 2021 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. best rv repair near me


    May 22, 2021 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. fiberglass company near me

    I want to to thank you for this very good read!! I absolutely loved every little bit of it. I have you book marked to look at new things you post…


    May 22, 2021 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. rv inspections near me


    May 22, 2021 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. AnooEncox

    paroles de la chanson maudit viagra http://llviagra.com/ instatabs viagra

    May 22, 2021 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Digital Marketing Businesses


    May 22, 2021 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Beds Orange County


    May 22, 2021 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. RV Dent Repair Los Angeles


    May 22, 2021 at 21:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. horse trailer painting


    May 22, 2021 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RV AC Near Me


    May 22, 2021 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RV Technician Riverside


    May 23, 2021 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. SEO Marketing Business

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s equally educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. Now i'm very happy I came across this during my search for something concerning this.


    May 23, 2021 at 01:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Internet Marketing Companies


    May 23, 2021 at 04:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. FmrfEncox

    buy cialis http://cialisee.com/ cialis professional legitimate

    May 23, 2021 at 05:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Social Media Marketing Consultants

    You made some decent points there. I checked on the web to learn more about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this website.


    May 23, 2021 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. BbshMile

    girl viagra https://loxviagra.com/ – how to buy viagra online otc viagra walmart

    May 23, 2021 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. RebfZisse

    cialis price comparison no prescription http://rcialisgl.com/ buy cialis/canada

    May 23, 2021 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. LebnEncox

    pharmacy express https://xlnpharmacy.com/ Florinef

    May 23, 2021 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. rv sales orange county


    May 23, 2021 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Tritreviewifind

    best price usa tadalafil cost of cialis tadalafil brands side effects for tadalafil https://cttadalafil.com/

    May 23, 2021 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. awnings orange county


    May 23, 2021 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. situs slot terbaik

    Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as I
    provide credit and sources back to your blog? My blog site is in the exact same area of interest as yours and my visitors would really benefit from a lot of
    the information you provide here. Please let me know if this ok with
    you. Thanks a lot!

    Here is my web page :: situs slot terbaik

    May 24, 2021 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

Leave a Reply to RV Repair Mission Viejo


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.