What do You Say to a Guy With Cancer?

31 Oct

Last weekend was the first really tough moment in the early phase of my encounter with cancer.  A last minute call from a scheduler at the interventional radiology clinic suggesting that I was having a lung biopsy (I wasn’t) and that I would require 4 days of bed rest to recover (I didn’t) really freaked me out!  Even my daily efforts at light sedation (see my previous post, Lightly Sedated) were of little use.   Fortunately my biopsy went as planned (perhaps better) and I am back to balancing mere uneasy calm with your run of the mill gut wrenching anxiety—as opposed to, say, gut wrenching anxiety with existential, paralyzing fear.

Having said that, Friday’s call has really got me thinking about the dos and don’ts of talking to someone with cancer, or at least what to say to “this guy” with cancer.  Below is a brief primer on the topic.  I hope that you will take it in the spirit in which it is intended:


Please do almost everything you’re all already doing.  I appreciate your expressions of sympathy, concern, you cheers, your good wishes, the jokes about hair and weight loss, your anecdotes about your friends and relatives who survived cancer, your suggestions of alternative therapies (which I may or may not take advantage of), your tips on how you made it through chemo, etc., etc., etc.  In truth, my family, friends, and co-workers have been wonderfully supportive and I am truly blessed with an unbelievable network of kind, caring, and decent people.  Thank you.


There are really only two entries in this category.  First, don’t tear up and tell me about the aunt, uncle, mother, father, etc., who succumbed to cancer.  That really doesn’t help me.  In fact it makes my balancing act quite difficult and I can soon tilt over into the gut wrenching anxiety side of things.  Second, don’t try and assign blame. In other words, don’t try and figure out if my diet, my weight, my environment, etc. caused my lymphoma.  There are simply too many what ifs, there, and frankly I am not in the mood to be blamed for having cancer.  Indeed, if I had smoked since birth, slept in a tanning bed, driven to work in an asbestos laden car, and worked in in a nuclear reactor core I still would not want to hear anyone’s assessment of how I got cancer.  Now is a time to for fighting cancer, beating cancer, and healing.  I am surely interested in health tips that will help with that work, but please, PLEASE, keep your assessments of how I got into this mess to yourself.   Truth is, sometimes people just get cancer.

Let me just close by recognizing there is no really good way to talk to someone about their cancer.  Hallmark has yet to create the perfect card.  Frank Sinatra and The Nelson Riddle Orchestra never recorded a cancer classic, and I don’t recall Shakespeare really addressing the  topic either.  That must tell us something, yes?  And yet, most of the time my family, friends, and colleagues have found extraordinary ways to address the subject, lift my spirits, and make me feel surrounded by love.   I am extremely grateful for that.  Perhaps you guys should work on a greeting card, a classic cancer tune, or the ideal cancer sonnet.  You’ve surely got what it takes.

Thanks Again,



Cancer Joke Image



2 Responses to “What do You Say to a Guy With Cancer?”

  1. Adam Greenwald October 31, 2013 at 5:34 am #

    Been sending good thoughts to you, Amy, and Emma for the last week since I saw your FB posts and the blog. Glad that you are being good to yourself– loved the “Lightly Sedated” post– and hoping to read about good test results and plans for a speedy recovery in the near future. Refuah shleima!

    • Erik Greenberg October 31, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

      Many thanks, Adam, both for the good wishes and the compliment.


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