People were amazing and supportive when our son was diagnosed with leukemia. They said all kinds of wonderful, nice things. But every once in awhile, there were those crazy, insensitive comments that just drove you bonkers!
Now, five years later, I’ve let it go, of course. But here are just a few comments I’m still trying to forget:
1. “I’m So Glad I’m Not You.”
This kind of comment might have been intended to express sympathy or horror. But it was depressing to hear. It was a shocker to realize I was now the person no one else wanted to be.
Here’s a more helpful way the person could have put it: “This must be so hard for you. It’s scary to think it could happen to anyone.”
2. “What Do You Think Caused It?”
The question that tormented me every night. I could lie awake for days wondering, and still never know the answer.
Another person warned us against eating red hot dogs because she’d heard the red dye causes cancer. Dr. Jill Beck, my son’s oncologist at Children’s, explained to me that years ago, food producers used a red dye that was suspected to cause cancer.
However, that dye was taken off the market over three decades before Cooper was even born. That was five years before I (his mother) was born.
Also, Dr. Beck explained that for cancer to be caused by exposure to something, it takes years. Kids haven’t been alive long enough for that to happen.
More helpful response: “It’s so hard to know why these things happen.”
3. “So-and-so Said You Probably Caused It. After All, You’re Always Using Way Too Much Sanitizer.”
Ouch! This person thought my son hadn’t been exposed to enough germs—i.e., he had a weak immune system, so he got cancer. God bless Dr. Beck, who patiently assured me, once again, that I did not cause my son’s cancer.
When you’re a mom of a child with cancer, you’re always secretly thinking you did (or didn’t) do something that caused the disease. So it’s hard to hear other people are thinking it, too!
More helpful response (someone actually said this to me, and it made me feel so much better): “I could never pay such close attention to detail. Half the stuff you do to keep Cooper safe from germs wouldn’t even occur to me. I think God gave Cooper the exact mom he needed to help him fight cancer.”
4. “You Would Know Better Than Anyone How Important It Is To Use All-natural Products.”
This comment was made by a woman who was hoping I’d help sell all-natural products. I felt like she was saying I could have prevented my son’s cancer if I would have just used her products. Of course, she was hitting a nerve, because I wished with all my heart I could have done something to prevent my child’s suffering.
But actually, I did use all-natural products before my son was diagnosed. We all wish preventing childhood cancer was as easy as using a certain product, but apparently it’s not the magic answer we wished it was.
I still use all-natural products whenever possible. They’re a good option for my son’s (and my) sensitive skin. But I wouldn’t dare suggest that using them could impact whether or not someone gets cancer.
So here’s a more helpful response I would have liked to hear: “I love this new cleaner I found. It’s supposed to be all natural and still kills 99.9% of germs. Plus it smells amazing. It was two for one, so I got you a bottle, too!”
5. “Oh, I’m Not Sick (Cough, Cough, Sneeze). It’s Just Allergies. (In November?!)”
I was super paranoid about keeping Cooper away from sick people while he was on treatment. His immune system was weak, so germs were very dangerous to him.
It drove me nuts when people blamed sickness on allergies and acted like I was crazy for worrying. Excuse me, but a simple cold could put my child in the hospital so, yeah, I’m worried.
More helpful: “I was really cautious to make sure I was healthy before I came over. I know how scary it can be when Cooper gets sick, and I don’t want to put him (or you) through that. I think I’m just coughing because of the dry air, but I don’t want to take any chances.” Exit stage left.
6. “I Really Think You Need To Relax.”
I tend to be a little overzealous at times, so I can see where they were coming from. However, with cancer treatment, overzealous is in a mother’s job description.
More helpful: “Is there anything I can do to help make things easier for you?”
7. “It Can’t Be That Big Of A Deal, Can It?”
When it comes to your kid’s health, everything is a big deal. My husband and I tried to follow the oncologist’s instructions to the letter. There’s actually a funny tent story, but that’s another post.
More helpful: “I still don’t fully understand everything, but I can tell this is a big deal to you, so it’s a big deal to me. I want to make sure we do our best to keep Cooper safe. How can I help?”
8. “If Only There Was A Return Policy On These Kids.”
A friend thought she was being funny and said this about her own healthy, beautiful children. I wanted to scream at her ingratitude as I struggled to keep my own child alive.
More helpful: “I know I should be grateful for my healthy children, but they are just driving me nuts right now.” (It’s okay to vent. Moms of kids with cancer still want the back-and-forth of friendship. Just remember we can be tender, especially on the hard days.)
9. “So, What’s His Prognosis?”
That’s something I didn’t want to talk about. For one thing, it really isn’t anyone else’s business. For another, I don’t want my child to hear a number one day and let it impact him negatively.
More helpful: “We’re all praying God will be with your family through this hard time.”
The Power Of Words
Truth be told, if the situation was reversed, I could see myself making several of these mistakes, as well. So there has to be grace and forgiveness. But that doesn’t stop us from laughing and cringing together, right?
On the flip side, supportive words like the ones I’ve suggested here can also bring a unique, positive power of their own. So don’t hesitate to extend your sincere sympathy and good wishes to a family that’s facing cancer. It could go a long way toward offering a family comfort and hope at a tough time.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.