Sunday, January 9, 2011

How Are You Feeling?

Here I am back to blogging with a vengeance after what can only be described as the worst vacation ever.  My hubby and I had slunk off for a week in a warmer climate, which at this time of year, put us half-way around the world.  We landed on Monday, and by Tuesday I was laid up in bed with a serious fever and a chest infection the likes of which my immune system had never seen before.

Similar size to the bag-o-drugs
I was prescribed on my vacation
A consultation with the hotel medical team, a butt-load of injections, and a shopping bag full of drugs, and I was at least on the road to recovery, but not quick enough to be able to enjoy our little taste of summer.  Suffice to say, I only managed to leave the hotel room on our last day there, so I was only able to soak up some rays for a couple of hours, until it was time to repack our bags (or not, in my case, since I barely got out of my bed shirt) and head back home to the freezer.

So with all that said, today I am still quite under-the-weather and still feeling somewhat irritated with life, the universe and my battered immune system, which doesn't seem to be able to protect me as well as it used to from all of these little nasties.  But enough with feeling sorry for myself !  Here's what I'm irked about today.

I had an email today from an old friend, whom I haven't seen in at least a few years, although we've traded the odd greeting over Facebook.  So she sends me this email that basically says, "Hi. How are you feeling ?  I keep up with your news via Paula (a mutual friend). Hope to hear from your soon.  Love X."

There's a few things about the nature of this email that ticked me off, so strap yourselves in, here's my first real rant for 2011.

1.  "How are you feeling?":  Why does this question have to always be the lead-in to conversations with me? It irritates the hell out of me. I could understand it if you're my doctor, then this seems like a reasonable question.  I could also understand you're wanting to know if I was lying horizontal in a bed, with a fever of 103, and a death-rattle in my chest worthy of a serious emphysema diagnosis.  Oh wait, that was me this week, but it's not me usually, is the point I want to make.

I just don't know how I'm supposed to answer this question.  I mean what is it that you want to hear when you ask me that ?  Do you really want a run-down of my entire medical file, or do you just want to hear me say "good, good" so you can feel okay about the rest of our conversation and we won't have to go THERE.  Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair, deigns sometimes to simply answer "I seem to have cancer today". (See his article, Miss Manners And the Big C).  I usually just turn it around, by asking the other person how they're feeling.

Someone in my family recently said to me that many people struggle with what to actually say to me as they don't know, and they're afraid of saying the wrong thing.  The problem with this kind of an attitude, is that it usually translates into saying nothing to me at all, and that's not right.  I've always tried to be open about what is going on with me, but I don't feel the need to open all my conversations by talking about my cancer.  So why should you feel the need to either ? However, I can certainly understand if you have questions, so how about something like this?

"Hi.  What have you been up to ? *talk for a good 5-minutes or so on any topic of your choosing* then feel free to throw in, "So how's your treatment going?" or "How's things with you these days?". You see by this time, you've indicated that you're really interested in hearing about what's going on with me on both the normal life-in-general front and the cancer-front.  And if I'm in the mood to talk about the cancer-front, then I'll tell you and I'll be perfectly happy to answer any questions you might have.  If I'm not in the mood to talk about it, I might say something like "Hey, do you mind if we don't talk about this right now, but I'd be happy to do it another time".  And hopefully because you know me so well, you'll respect that, and we can just get on with it.  The thing is, I don't hold the key to the all the rules of cancer etiquette just because I have it.  But I am still a person with feelings, and I'm not a walking medical file or oddity and nor should this be the only thing that we have to talk about.

2. "I keep up with your news via our mutual friend".  So why are you bothering to talk with me at all ?

3. "Hope to hear from you soon".  So you send me a three-line email and now you are expecting me to send you a full accounting of what's going on with me without even bothering to tell me what's going on with you?  I don't think so.  Friendship is a two-way street.  You get a bit about me, if I get a bit about you.  Pretty simple, right ?

All I'm saying is just have a normal conversation with me.  If you want to know about what's going on with the cancer, then just ask.  But don't be offended if I decline to answer, or don't be shocked if you get more information than you bargained for.  Most of all,  just treat me normally.  It's not required that you ask me how I'm feeling every time you talk to me.  

Ask me how I'm feeling today though, and the answer is, "grumpy!"


  1. I love the Hitchens line, "I seem to have cancer today."

    I suggest we dream up some fun phrases to make you laugh. I'll start:

    "I seem to have cancer today....what about you?" or "I've had cancer for the past (1,2,3,4 ...) years and think it's your turn now" and if you're really in a snit, "I seem to have cancer today. Last I heard it's catching...." I think we could fill a notebook of snappy one liners for cancer patients....

    Hope this helps:) I'm really bummed that your vacation wasn't what you hoped for and needed. Being sick is bad enough, being sick miles from home is scary. I'm glad you're back.


  2. Awww thanks Jody, you always know just the right things to say.......I absolutely love Christopher Hitchens columns and that line of his is my all-time favorite.....I mean what do you say to that ???? I think what I really need to do is forage around in my huge bag-o-drugs and get the cowbell out.......;)

  3. Anna:

    I had the same rant a month or so ago! ( My favorite line is, after I say, "Fine, thanks," "No, how AAAARE you?" like I'm hiding something. Gimme a break.

    Sorry about your vacation, but glad to hear you're recovering. The beach will always be there.


  4. Anna, I'm sorry you were so sick on vacation. That sucks big time. I hope you had time to enjoy something, anything there and as for your email pal, you're so right. Not the sign of a true friend. I once had someone, who was seeing me for the first time about 9 or 10 months after my whole thing, ask me how I was feeling. I wanted to take her head off. I didn't have chemo, so she couldn't have been confused by that. I wanted to say, breast cancer isn't like the flu, idiot. But, I didn't. I just chalked it up to her ignorance about the whole situation. That's how she sees people with breast cancer, sick. I'm pissed just thinking about it now. What a perfectly great rant!

  5. Sarah....I think this subject is a popular rant of ours, because sooner or later you get asked this one too many times, and something pops inside our brains and we must immediately blog.....actually that gives me a good idea for a future response to this question....."How am I feeling ??? READ MY BLOG !!!"

    Stacey....I guess people mean well, but I think we've gotten a bit lazy with our's just too easy to go on Facebook and leave a 1-line message rather than taking the time to dig a little deeper in a way that shows you're genuinely I said I just turn it around and ask them "How are YOU feeling"....sometimes I have to chuckle when they say "Why are you asking me that?"......exactly!!!!!!!

  6. Well said Anna, as usual! You've just touched on a subject that I'd been thinking about after seeing Christopher Hitchens piece. This whole subject of the 'rules of cancer etiquette' that you describe is just loaded. And so many other people have no idea what being treated for breast cancer is like, really like - and do they want to know? I mean *really* know? I've mostly seen them back away in fear, or you get this sort of exchange from them, usually with one of those 'concerned' faces:
    'Oh my friend had breast cancer,' pause.
    Me, 'And?'
    Another pause, 'Oh she died.'
    Me, can't open mouth whilst seething and thinking, where's the pithy one liner when I most needed it now? And yes we all know women die of breast cancer and just exactly why did you think that would help me right now? And make mental note to cross them out of my address book.

    Good start to 2011 (the rant not the infection). Keep ranting Anna, I love it!

  7. Thanks Sarah ! The "how are you feeling?" question is a loaded one, which if I really felt like it I could get extremely granular in answering it....but I don't.....preferring to just silently seethe for a bit or just take to the blog for a good old-fashioned rant.....;)

  8. Anna, What a great rant! Sometimes people are just so in the dark about what is and is not "tacky." Days after my mastectomy someone actually said to my husband, "Well did they take them both off?" He was flabbergasted. Actually, I've been working on a post on this exact topic, so stay tuned! ha. I think all of us can relate. Sorry your vacation was not as you hoped. Feel better soon!

  9. Poor you - I am so sorry to hear you were sick on vacation - what a bummer. How are you feeling now??? Only joking! Now that I am in remission from cancer and dealing with one of its side effects - infertility, punctuated by recurrent miscarriage - people have switched their ineptitude on the what to say front from cancer to my "new problem" In fact I could pretty much substitue a lot of what you said here, just switching the word cancer for infertility. I do sympathise! Throw in judgementalism on top of insensitivity and catch me on the wrong day for a lesson in ranting too!

  10. All very exasperating isn't it.......and like you say, catch us on a bad day and what you get is a rant like this which does make me feel better in some ways........and I hear you on the infertility issue....I think my favorite was when someone said to me....."Still you probably wouldn't have had children anyway, so it probably doesn't matter" head still spins when I think about that it's just become the big ugly elephant in the room and no one wants to go there...........*sighs very loudly* it never ends !

  11. D.G. Myers, who “. . . was diagnosed with Stage Four metastatic prostate cancer (Gleason score, nine) three years ago last month,” comments on Mr Hitchen’s article and “Cancer etiquette” here:


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