When a person doesn't know what not to say

October 7, 2011

This entry was written by Jackie Roth, PhD. Jackie is a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who was diagnosed with Stage III A breast cancer at the age of 28. Every other Friday, throughout the entire year of 2011, Jackie will share a blog entry about her breast cancer experience. This year-long blog series is in honor of LBBC’s 20th anniversary.

To read Jackie’s previous entries, enter “ Jackie Roth” in the search box on this site.

Although we might not always show it, as survivors we can be a bit more sensitive to other people’s actions and words than we were before diagnosis.  So what are we supposed to do when someone says something that offends us? 

Just a few days ago I went shopping for a nightshirt at a well-known women’s intimates store.  When I put my nightshirt down at the register to pay the cashier asked me if I would like to purchase a bra with it.  I politely declined and dug for my wallet to pay for the shirt.  She asks me again “Are you sure?  We have bras as low as 19.50!”  Again, I said “no, thank you.”  The cashier continues to push and with attitude she told me “look if you buy a bra right now, I will give you $10 off!”  Luckily by that time she was handing me my receipt and I just turned around to leave. 

As I walked away I thought about what I could have said to her.  In response to her nagging I could have said “well I had breast cancer, had a double mastectomy and now I don’t need to wear a bra!  So I will just take the nightshirt today!”  That would have probably made her feel really bad.  But enough is enough!   Maybe she was short on commission that day…

In addition to my recent shopping experience, you would probably not believe some of the things that have been said to me and some of my survivor friends in the past year.  What offends me, however, might not be the same thing that offends another survivor and vice versa.  We cannot control what other people say to us, although sometimes we wish we could.  What we can control are our reactions to what they say.

For the past year, I’ve just kept my mouth shut when someone offends me, as evidenced by my polite reaction to the cashier.  I think this is for a variety of reasons.  One, I do not have the energy for a confrontation.  I don’t want to argue probably because I have a feeling it might lead to tears so I brush it off.  Two, sometimes I actually don’t realize that something offended me until after I think about it for a bit, and then it seems  too late to address it. 

My quiet nature has really allowed my friends and family to stick up for me when I can’t do it myself.  I guess instead of focusing on the negative things that have been said to me I focus on the positive.  My favorite thing to hear from people other than survivors is something along the lines of “I don’t really understand everything you are going through but how can I help?” 

Our cancer journeys have made each of us so strong in so many ways.  But just because we might come across as having tough exteriors, I would recommend treading lightly because we might be more sensitive than we appear. 

To read Jackie’s previous entries, enter “ Jackie Roth” in the search box on this site.

Have you ever been in a situation like Jackie? Tell us how you dealt with an innocent comment that sparked a trigger and brought you to a sensitive place because of your breast cancer diagnosis. Comment here or on our Facebook page.

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