You probably get that a lot right? You say you have cancer and the person you’re talking to gets all misty-eyed and goes “oh no I’m so sorry!” You could be talking to the most stubborn, meat-heady dude in the world and then you mention cancer and all of a sudden he turns Canadian and starts apologizing. Here’s my question: why? What are people apologizing to us for?

I’m sure everyone has different responses to “sorry” or “you poor thing” or any derivation of the two. Personally, I’m a “no worries, not your fault” kinda guy. Usually elicits an interesting response where you can sort of see in the person’s face that they’re asking themselves why they apologized. It’s not anybody’s fault, it’s really just a natural reaction to not knowing what to say, so you should really never be rude to anyone for saying it, but it is pretty annoying being treated like a sad little pity case every time you meet someone and they want to know where your eyebrows went or why your boobs don’t have nipples.

Here’s the thing, people aren’t trying to make us feel bad when they apologize for what we’re going through, they just don’t know what else to say. Well, lucky us, I’ve had cancer for a while and I’ve been apologized to more times than a Taco Bell fry cook has given someone diarrhea, so I’ve had some time to think about it. Here’s my list of alternatives to “sorry” when you meet someone with cancer:

  1. “Bummer.” Don’t pussyfoot around it, be honest. Know what cancer is? A huge bummer. I know it. You know it. Let’s not jiggle each other’s nuts here. Just be blunt with each other.
  2. “That’s unlucky.” An alternative to bummer. Still says the same thing and still is true.
  3.  “Oh no, how are you doing?” If you’re not into the blase responses, be compassionate. And let the cancer-havee respond how they will. Maybe they’ll tell you all about it, maybe they’ll just say “fine.” Don’t press it, let them say what they will and move on.
  4. “My [enter random relative here] had that.” This one is tricky and relies on you having been close with someone who had/has cancer. First off, don’t lie. If you don’t know anyone with cancer, don’t lie. Secondly, don’t try to act like you know what we’re going through.  I’m a 24 year old with stage IV cancer, I don’t give a shit that you had to get a suspicious mole removed when you were in college, it’s not the same. Don’t act like you’ve been there.
  5. Just say “hmm” and change the subject. You don’t HAVE to discuss the fact that I have cancer. If you were wondering where my eyebrows went and it was because of a grilling incident, would you say sorry and try to learn more? Or just move on with the conversation? Personally, I would want to know more about the grilling incident cause I’m a curious guy so this was a bad example but I hope the point remains clear, just be respectful.

Now, I’m by no means the elected spokesperson for cancer patients everywhere, so I can only speak to what I would want. Maybe I’m the only person who gets annoyed by people’s desire to compulsively apologize to me for things that are nobody’s fault. Who knows. I’d bet my bottom dollar I’m not the only one though. So I dunno, I gave a few suggestions of what I would want to hear, but in reality the best response is to just be respectful and to say what you think you would want to hear. And if you do get caught off-guard and apologize, don’t feel bad about it. It’s not all that offensive, just gets old after a long time. And who knows, maybe some people like the sympathy.

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