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CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SURVIVORSHIP: A TWO-WAY STREET
Although social issues are a frequent topic of discussion in the brain tumor survivor community, feeling awkward in social situations doesn’t have to be exclusive to survivors. At a recent young adult survivor get together, this was actually part of our discussion – framed as “Why are other people so awkward?”
Just as we might be hesitant to talk about our brain tumors and medical history, it’s not uncommon for the person on the other side of the conversation to feel just as self-conscious when asking questions, they could even feel intimidated!
We discussed ways to deal with people who might ask too many probing questions about scars, medical equipment, or other physical differences that neither people feel comfortable discussing. Everyone had a different idea of how they might cope with such questions, ranging from a brief explanation of their past followed with an answer of “…but that was a long time ago”, to a more upfront “That’s a very personal question and I’m not comfortable discussing it,” and even some ideas of how to answer with humor and sarcasm.
This subject can be awkward because it seems that most people asking these questions do not have the intentions of making us feel awkward or bad, they just don’t know how to handle the topic in an ideal way.
In another discussion I had about this topic, one survivor said, “A lot of people say stuff without giving it much thought; I used to take it personally, now I take it as a sign of immaturity,” and another said “I find that people usually don't MEAN to say ‘cancer-stupid’ things. They literally just don't know what the ‘rules’ are.”
So, what are some of these rules for non-survivors? The most important idea seems to be that no matter the words you actually say, you should be honest. It’s so easy for people to get so wrapped up in trying to say the right thing that what actually comes out is awkward and sounds like something off of a hallmark greeting card. Many of our survivors agree that hearing, “Wow, that sucks” can be appropriate because it isn’t covered with false sympathy. Quite frankly, it’s also the truth and says just that! Personally, I find that if I’m in a situation where I am willing to open up about my past, I also appreciate a willingness to listen more than anything else.
Remember that no matter how or what you decide to disclose, whether it's to say only what seems necessary to you, answering with humor, or disclosing nothing at all, these conversations are always two-sided and no matter the approach or outcome, the other person's handle on it also influences it's flow - a bad response does not mean that you did or said something wrong. As difficult as it is to feel comfortable during these questions or conversations, coming up with a way to talk about a brain tumor or answer unexpected questions that is comfortable for YOU can help you to feel more confident about their outcomes.