Most people seem to have a very hard time talking about breast cancer and I am not sure why this is so. Even after my own diagnoses and all of my years of writing and talking about the subject here on a daily basis, when it comes to discussing the subject with someone on a face-to-face basis, I find it to be difficult. It doesn’t matter whether it is the patient or members of their families or friends or associates.
No one should expect that others are going to take a quick lesson on the proper etiquette of breast cancer discussions so until such time as the subject is no longer on the “don’t talk about” list, there are certain realities that should be addressed. Barbara Jacoby
It may be that because there is no cure for cancer that most of us don’t know what to say or how to deal with it. Normally, one look at the face of the person who has just been told that they have received the diagnosis is enough to take your breath away. For those who have receive the news that their loved one has been diagnosed, the shock and fear and the thoughts running through their heads is clearly showing on their faces. And why not? There are no words that can assure them that everything will be okay. There are no promises that can be made. There are no ways to let them know that a successful outcome is in the future for the patient. If such were the case then the word “cancer” would not wreak such havoc on patients and those who love them.
I started thinking about when we were young and what it was like when the adults got together for their grownup discussions. The children were banished to another room but if that location is nearby, you were aware of the whispering going on but never knew what it was about but were pretty sure that it wasn’t something good. Perhaps when you got a little older, you might have become aware of a discussion about breast cancer that was occurring but no details were ever shared. This has not only led us to be uncomfortable about discussing this subject but also I believe it may have served to hide the fact that more family members may have had breast cancer and we never knew it. And if such is the case, that may have deprived us of very important information that we should have known when it comes to our own family history that needs to be shared with our medical professionals.
So here we are as adults trying to figure out how to respond when someone we know has breast cancer. Even when we are the ones with the diagnosis, we don’t know what to say or what to do. It seems like a subject that is so disturbing to others that we would be better off if we just never tried to deal with it with anyone other than our doctors. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have to tell others and watch the horror and shock on their faces and see them burst into tears or whatever other emotion that might engulf them. And while it is difficult to talk about it with the women around us, it is just about impossible to talk to men.
No one should expect that others are going to take a quick lesson on the proper etiquette of breast cancer discussions so until such time as the subject is no longer on the “don’t talk about” list, there are certain realities that should be addressed. People will be people and you can’t expect that they will act and react just as you would like when you drop this level of news upon them. You should expect anything from a very vocal outburst and inappropriate comments to a person having absolutely nothing to say or offer and your knowing that they could potentially disappear into the sunset.
But, there will be those who understand that while there is nothing much for them to do or say in this moment, they will offer their help and an ear to listen to you whenever you need them. Hopefully, they will choose to stand beside you and be there during your treatment and recovery. The most important thing to do is allow them time to absorb the news that you have just laid upon them and wait to see what happens. With any luck, those closest to you will step up and be there to support you along the way. But no matter the circumstances, know that you are not alone and there are plenty of people who will talk with you and support you in these times and help you in any way that they can.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.