Top Ten Things You Never Want to Hear When Battling Breast Cancer

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • So you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, eh? Here are 10 things you absolutely don’t want to hear—EVER. Keep this list with you for handy reference as you go through treatment.

    1. I’m sorry, we’ve gotten a little backed up today…
    Spoken by the receptionist at a) the radiation desk; b) the chemo infusion desk, or c) general surgery. Just hope you have a good book, and that you haven’t been on an overnight fast and it’s now 1 p.m...

    2. Whoops!


    Whether it’s gasped by the plastic surgeon tattooing your new areola, the chemo nurse checking the bag of drugs on the IV pole above your head, or the radiologist doing that needle biopsy, this is simply one word you NEVER want to hear in a medical context. Whoops, I let the cat out, OK. Whoops, I burned the cookies, sure. But NOT Whoops, I think we mixed up your pathology report with someone else’s a couple of weeks ago…

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    3. I know two people who went through chemo, and they both said it was the worst experience of their life.

    These exact words were uttered to me by one of my colleagues at work. Two weeks before I was due to start chemo, he looked me straight in the eye and made that statement. Uh, thanks for sharing, Jack… you incredible jerk.

    4. It’s your left breast, right?


    Right breast.
    Right, your left breast.
    No, my RIGHT breast.
    The left breast isn’t right?
    No, the right breast is right.


    Ever have this conversation? Left isn’t right. Right is right. Or maybe you’re really out of luck, and left IS right, and right ISN’T right. Hopefully you’re not engaged in this dialogue after they’ve given you the sedative, and before they’ve taken you in for the lumpectomy…

    5. Did your hair fall out, like, EVERYPLACE?


    “None of your business” is the correct answer to this prying question. Alternate answer: Think before you ask a stupid question like this. Do you see that the hair on top of my head is gone, and my eyebrows, and my eyelashes, and did you hear me say I don’t have to shave my legs? Then can you jump to the obvious conclusion and NOT ask me about where else I no longer have any hair? Jeesh.

    6. It’s the insurance company, honey. Something about that reconstruction procedure not being pre-certified…?


    Trust me; when the insurance company calls, it’s not to wish you a speedy recovery from your mastectomy. It’s inevitably about a form that wasn’t filled out correctly… a premium that was sent to the wrong office… a provider that’s “out of network,” and of course said provider is the only plastic surgeon within 500 miles certified to do a tram-flap reconstruction. Insurance companies are happy to cover you when you’re completely healthy. It’s only when you get sick that the hemming and hawing begins.

    7. You’re going to keep working? You can’t be serious! What about spending time with your children…?


    The implicit message being, of course, that you’re going to die and how selfish of you to want to spend your final days on earth working, rather than glooming around with your otherwise innocently happy children. Attention, friends: cancer isn’t a death sentence. I’ll still be around tomorrow, next week, probably even next year. There’s plenty of time to cry once the final verdict is in and the countdown begins. Till then—I’m going to work, laugh, have a glass of wine, plan for retirement, and do every other normal thing I’ve always done. Because I AM normal; I may have a crummy disease, but I still have a life.

  • 8. The gals at church got together and made you some casseroles. Now, this looks like a lot of food, but we figured you could freeze some of it…

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    ARRGGHHHH! It’s the invasion of the carbs. Macaroni and cheese, American chop suey, chili rice, noodles stroganoff, you name it—if it’s starch and goes with cheese and/or tomato sauce and/or a can of cream of chicken soup, sooner or later it’ll end up on your doorstep. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the love and caring of my casserole-baking friends. But there’s a time when the Horn of Plenty becomes the Horn of Too Much.

    9. Boy, I wish my hair was that short. It must be so easy to take care of.


    Said another way: my hair takes lots of time and shampoo and conditioner and blow-drying and styling because it’s rich and thick and full and luxuriant… And yours is like 1/2” long and you look like a haggard Sinead O’Connor. Spare me the compliment, please.

    10. Oh, you poor, brave thing!


    Answer: I am NOT poor (though I may be by the time I pay all my deductibles). I AM brave (but not in the way your tone of voice infers). And I am not a THING. I am a woman going through breast cancer, a vibrant, otherwise healthy woman who’s taken a detour on the path but will be back on track soon. I need empathy, maybe even sympathy… but not pity. I’m strong, I’m determined, and I am going to BEAT cancer. And while I’m doing that, you’ll find out just how brave I really am. So stay tuned. And in the meantime—stand back!

Published On: June 19, 2008