While puffing up the hill on my bike this afternoon, I was passed by an acquaintance from church who was cruising downhill. He turned around to pedal beside me and catch up on family news. Now I wish I’d ridden a lot faster.
I’m surprised that stuff like this even causes me to blink these days, since the hard parts are behind me and I’m in breast-cancer-in-the-rear-view-mirror mode. Nevertheless, our conversation left me gobsmacked. Here’s how it went.
Bla, bla, bla…where you goin’ to church these days, how are the wife and kids, do you know where George moved after he sold his house, bla, bla… And then, BAM.
“Have you had both surgeries yet?” he asked.
“Both surgeries?” I asked, confused.
“Yeah, you know, two breasts, two surgeries.”
“Uh…well…yes, those surgeries are all finished.”
“Oh, good. So you’re clean now? Or are you just hoping to make it to five years?”
No kidding. I’m not making this up, and I’m not exaggerating for dramatic emphasis. He really said it.
I was speechless, which is unusual for me. And hopping mad. Fortunately for him and his his bicycle, Jerry had cycled up between us and caught the tail end of the conversation, just as I was gaping at him and about to run over my lip because my mouth was hanging open in astonishment. “Hey,” Jerry blurted, thinking fast. “Have you heard we have a new grandbaby?” Distract, deflect.
Although admittedly well-intended, what the man said is a good example of what NOT to say to a cancer survivor during a casual conversation. I was so taken aback, my powers of repartee departed entirely. Had they not, however, this is what I would have shot back:
“I’m fine, thanks. I wasn’t aware I had been dirty, and I certainly hope I live to see five more years. After all I’ve been through it would be a huge waste if I were to fall over dead on the trail here.”
When you’re chatting with a cancer survivor, you do not get to ask, indirectly or point blank, if they’re sure the cancer is gone.
And since I know you’re curious, more about the grandbaby in the next post.
“Careless words stab like a sword, but the words of wise people bring healing.” Proverbs 12:18