Sometimes People Say The Dumbest Things (and don’t even know it!)

Dr. Rick Wirtz Health Guide
  • When I was growing up, a TV celebrity named Art Linkletter had a show called Kid’s Say The Darnedest Things. On the show young kids were asked what appeared to be simple, innocent questions and the responses were often really unpredictable and funny. That was the inspiration for this week’s blog. Unfortunately, well meaning people sometimes say things to cancer patients that can be insensitive and leave them feeling hurt, annoyed, and bewildered.

    If you are a cancer survivor going through surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation you have probably heard the ever popular line, “You look great!” It seems like a nice enough thing to say and it’s certainly very encouraging, but if you found yourself feeling slightly annoyed when you heard it, you’re not alone. In a women’s cancer group that I facilitated for several years, this was one of those lines that really got them fired up. The problem is that these treatments can really wear you down and leave you feeling pretty rough. When some of these women heard this line they said “Oh, thanks” but really wanted to say “Yeah, well I feel like crap.” Although I didn’t understand it at first, they reacted so strongly because the comment about how great they looked offered no recognition of how hard the treatment experience had been or what discomfort they were now experiencing on a day to day basis. Since these women did not typically complain outwardly they felt very isolated by that remark because they didn’t want to be “impolite.”
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    Now, if you are not a cancer survivor but want to express your relief and real happiness that the patient looks so healthy there are some things that you can say that shouldn’t raise their hackles. You might try something like, “Wow, I know your treatment must be very tough but I am thrilled to see how healthy and strong you look.” Or you might say,
    “I hope that you are feeling as well as you look today! I’m sure it’s been very hard but you really are looking great.” Both of those statements acknowledge the struggle and give encouragement.

    Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some other comments that patients have shared with me and how those comments have affected them. If you have a favorite “dumb” comment that you’d like to share, please feel free to do so.
Published On: September 13, 2006