Talking cancer

What do you say to someone who has cancer? That was one of the questions a caller asked earlier this week when MPR’s Midmorning talked with Leroy Sievers, a journalist who has been writing about his battle with cancer on an NPR blog.

Yesterday, Sievers wrote about the question on his blog:


Cancer patients know how difficult it is to talk about our disease. It’s hard for us. I have broken down into tears any number of times recently.

But what’s more important, more important than the words you might say, is the effort to simply say anything. And if that “anything” isn’t about cancer, that’s even better.

The best conversations I have these days are about something, anything else. Politics, sports, books, whatever.

If cancer is not in the room for even an hour or two, that’s a gift.

The difficulty, of course, is sometimes “How ’bout those Twins?” sounds a lot like “this is me not talking about cancer.” The comments section of the blog post provided a good example: a mix of highly sensitive thoughts mixed in with questions about politics and the Red Sox.

  • Camille Scheel

    One of my favorites stories is of a five year old at my church. She recently asked me: “How’s your cancer?” Another time she said, “I like your wig” That childlike open attitude has been refreshing to me!

    I’ve been blogging about my cancer since my diagnosis in September of 2007, so my friends and family know that I’m very open about discussing it. I don’t mind at all being asked about my health. When people ask about it, what I hear them saying is “I care about you.”

    Survivors never forget that we have cancer, so bringing it up isn’t any surprise to us. One thing to consider is the individual survivor’s personality. An extrovert may be okay to discuss it. A more introverted person may not want to discuss. It’s all a matter of the individual survivor’s personality.

    My Advice: It’s okay to say, “I care about you, and I want to know how you’re doing. Do you want to talk about your health? Or would you rather chat baseball? I’m your friend and I’m happy to discuss either.”

  • http://www.mm.com Geoff Brown

    My wife died of cancer last October, and during her year-long losing battle with it, and as her caregiver for twelve months we ended up keeping it somewhat of a secret, simply because we didn’t want to impose that burden on our friends.

    This attitude of secrecy, albeit well-intentioned, generated a dense fog of obfuscation which still plagues me even as I try to start my life over and find a new life partner. Not that she can ever be replaced, but personally I need to move on. So I appreciate your discussion of personality types for cancer-plagued people. My wife and I are/were both fairly outgoing and friendly, but the crisis of cancer does strange things to one’s psychology

    More open conversations with our friends at an earlier stage would have helped a lot. Thank you, Camile, for your generosity in sharing the story of your losss