Monday, September 30, 2013

5 Things Not to Say to the Parent of a Child With Cancer

Oh, please. If you've ever read anything I've written, you knew this post was coming. It's actually kind of a miracle that it took me a whole two and a half weeks to write it, because I have ALREADY become an expert on All Things Childhood Cancer -- at least insofar as they affect ME.

So, anyway, we've been on this journey all of five minutes, and I'm already fed up with certain comments, and I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in this. Think of this as my public service. I'm a giver, people. It's just my nature.

1. God only gives you what you can handle/There is a plan/This is happening for a reason/or anything else that implies that God has CHOSEN me/my child for the GIFT of cancer. 

Um, no. First off, I am currently not really speaking to God -- and I am an orthodox Jew. I am not interested in how you think that God only tests us when he knows we can pass the test, or anything remotely related to that. I think that "God only gives you what you can handle" is one of the dumbest things you can say to anyone going through something difficult. It's a sentence that shows that you have never had to deal with hardship in your life. I've been hearing it for 10 years, since Adi was born. It wasn't true then, and it's not true now. If God REALLY only gave you tests he knew you would pass, he could JUST AS EASILY GIVE YOU AN A and skip the freaking test.

2. Let me know if you need anything.

I understand what you're trying to do here, and I realize that a lot of people have said this to me lately with only the best of intentions, but you're going about it all wrong. My kid has cancer. I need something. But if you honestly think that I'm going to get it together enough to figure out WHAT I need and then call you? Um, no. So when you say this, I hear, "I want to sound like I'm open to help, but I'm not actually going to do anything." Instead, try something specific. "Can I bring your other kid over to play tomorrow at 2?" or "Can I bring you dinner tonight?" It's even okay to say something like, "Can I help you figure out what you need?" But the open ended "Let me know if you need anything"puts the burden on me. And I really don't need any extra burdens right now.

3. I'm sure everything will be fine.

Really? Because I'm not, and when you say that, it feels like you're belittling my feelings. Yes, I know that childhood cancer is very beatable -- most of the time. Right now, I don't feel like our odds are the greatest, because we GOT cancer. And it sucks.

4. Stay strong! Think positive! 

Hey, guess what? MY KID HAS CANCER. It sucks. And we are right at the start of this journey, and frankly, I don't feel very positive or very strong, and it's not helpful to hear from you that what I'm feeling is wrong. I'm scared out of my mind, I want to crawl into bed and cry all day. So the very fact that I got OUT of bed, and got dressed, is about as positive and strong as I can handle right now. If there was ever a time to wallow in misery, I think this is it. YOU go be positive and strong. Preferably somewhere else -- and take the rest of my kids with you.

5. But aren't you worried about the side effects of the chemo?/Aren't you interested in alternative therapies?

Wait, chemo has side effects? Again, people. YES. I am TERRIFIED. I do not enjoy any of this. It is horrible. I do not know what awful things might happen to my kid in the future as a result of the poison we are putting in his body today. BUT I HAVE NO CHOICE. Your leprechaun juice has not been proven in any randomized, double-blind studies.  I'm not interested in hearing your theory of raw vegetable juice or vitamins or whatever miracle pill you saw on Oprah.

OK, smartass, so what AM I supposed to say?

Hey! Great question! Here are 5 things I would personally be delighted to hear -- and I can bet that many, many other cancer parents would, too.

1. Should I fill your wineglass all the way?
2. Go take a shower/nap/break while I fold your laundry/clean your kitchen/feed your screaming children.
3. Here is real, actual food that I know you like that I portioned into individual servings and labeled in your fridge.
4. Have some chocolate. (The good kind, people. My kid is sick.)
5. Here, I brought you the extra soft tissues with lotion in them.


"Just Aunt Sharyn" said...

I wish Pampered Palates had a branch in Israel in order to fill in one of your requests for food that you love. Now you know one of the reasons this business Is so fulfilling becausE we are able to provide exactly that service.
The best we can do is send HUGE virtual hugs, lots of love and continuous prayers.

We love you!

Crystal T. said...


Abbi Perets said...

Thanks, Just! It makes us happy to know that you're thinking of us.

Abbi Perets said...

@Crystsal -- I LOVE YOUR BLOG.

Hushaphone said...

I don't know what to say other than you're making a lot of lemonade out of the lemons life has given you.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! My daughter was diagnosed with ALL on December 14, 2012, the same day as the shooting at Sandy Hook, and yes, I did know I was luckier than all those parents, thank you very much. One man gave me the "God only gives you what you can handle line," and I responded with, "yes, but some people handle it by shooting kids in a school or jumping off a bridge." He hasn't spoken to me since!

Abbi Perets said...

Anon -- that is a GREAT reply. I may have to steal it. :-)

Chris Thomas said...

I do volunteer work for a children's oncology camp here in the states (which, by the way, if that's an option for you and yours I would strongly recommend) and as a result it's become kind of my unofficial job to know what to say to the parent of a child with cancer.

So I'll tell you what I tell the other parents who're in your situation when I meet them: 25 years ago I was where your kid is right now.

As my doctors used to tell me "take it one day at a time."

Oh, and if I may suggest an addition to your reading list: The Emperor of All Maladies is a wonderfully informative work on the history of cancer and its treatment.

Abbi Perets said...

Thanks, Chris, for your comment. I'll add the book to my reading list. And yes, one day at a time is definitely the mantra!

Monua Cary said...

My son has just finished his second round of chemo...I have to say that some of these things are what I felt. I believe in God, and I know He heals, but it isn't something He did. I've been a wreck a lot. That nagging question in the back of my mind "is this over yet". I took care of him for his first round, and my three grandkids. Dude, a person needs help! I agree, be specific in how you can help. Don't tell me it's going to be alright, I don't know that yet. He's my only child, and my heart breaks at how well he's handled this. Better than me. Don't give me statistics on survival, or treatments, or whatever. Pray for him, pray I don't lose my mind. Unless you've got a kid with cancer, you have no clue how I feel. This was a great blog, wish I had it at the beginning of this, people might have been helpful. But it's a great blog to help others. Thanks!