Post-Cancer Etiquette


When you have cancer, you get used to hearing two things:

1. “You look great!”  You realize of course, that the bestower of the compliment is probably thinking “…for someone with cancer” , but you give the standard cancer patient response anyway: “Thank you!”

2. “How are you?”, to which you have a choice of responses:  “Doing great thanks!”, OR get into a lengthy discussion of your latest test results and procedures.  I usually go with the latter.  (Well, hey, they ASKED!)

Now that I am putting cancer behind me, I realize that I can no longer get away with my standard responses.  When someone says, “You look great!”  they darn well expect that you are going to say, “You too!”  possibly followed by, “Have you lost weight?” or “I love that hair color on you.”

As for, “How are you?”, when you no longer have cancer, people really don’t care how you are, they are just being polite.  In this case, the proper post-cancer etiquette requires a response such as, “Fine thanks, and yourself?”  OR “Good, and you?”   The important part is to remember to ask the person how they are doing, and never, ever launch into a detailed explanation of your latest infection scare (unless they ask.)

6 thoughts on “Post-Cancer Etiquette

  1. It’s a strange feeling to move away from always talking about the cancer. When your appearance is altered people realize what’s happening and yeah, it’s often one of the first questions. Afterwards their minds move away from that topic (even if our minds don’t). I had to wein myself off of telling strangers that I’d had cancer. So it was, “How are you?” and instead of “I just finished chemotherapy,” I’d say, “feeling better every day” or now, “Fine, thanks.”

    It’s certainly a transition. (Though you probably do look good – so many women look simply beautiful with short hair, regardless of the reason for the length.)


  2. So true, what an apt way to describe how it feels to have people ask you how you are when you’re in the midst of cancer. My other favorite is “Oh, your hair looks great,” when my hair of course, looks like a white hot mess, thinner and strangely wiry, and will probably never really be the same, what with the Tamoxifen and all. What they really mean is “Oh thank God she has her hair back, it was so scary to look at her before.” 🙂 I love your honesty and humor. I do agree with Sharon above, most people really DO mean well and are truly concerned, but it’s kind of hilarious when people say how good you look, when you’re feeling like such a mess in the middle of it all. Best, Claudia

    • Oh thanks for the reminder of the “hair compliment” etiquette. I honestly look like a cockatoo….a bird with a big tuft of feathers sticking up on its head. Yet people say, “your hair looks great” which loosely translated means, “You have hair!” I find it difficult to muster a “thank you” in response to that compliment because my hair looks anything but great!

  3. Those expressions irk me to the hilt. Every time I talk about what not to say to a cancer patient, those two questions are first and foremost on my lips. People never told me I looked good before I had cancer. Why now? Great post! xx

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