Friends and family may have tons of questions about your metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. But sometimes, it’s better if they say nothing at all.
Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) can be overwhelming. And as someone who was diagnosed with MBC at the young age of 23, I’ve gotten countless questions and stories from others that can be discouraging to hear.
Sometimes your friends and family won’t know what to say. Other times, they may say something they don’t think will be triggering, but it is. Here are a few of the most common things I’ve heard that frustrate me as an MBC patient.
People with MBC are never finished with treatment unless they make that choice or no other treatment options are available. MBC is a terminal diagnosis and patients are always going to the hospital or cancer center for treatments, scans, biopsies, and many other appointments.
When someone asks me this question, it brings up the feeling of losing the life I had before cancer, losing the life I could’ve had, and the feelings of the unknown.
“How are treatments going?”
Only a few cancer treatments cause complete hair loss, but many MBC treatments can cause hair thinning. Losing hair can be extremely upsetting, but once it grows back, it can help us feel “normal” again.
Say nothing about our hair.
No one is immune from cancer. While breast cancer primarily strikes middle-aged and older women and men, the number of very young women being diagnosed is growing quickly.
Don’t say anything.
Young patients are dealing with a lot, no matter where they are in their treatments. Often, they must be put into medically-induced menopause for cancer treatment drugs to work. They must accept the fact that they may not be able to have children due to treatments. Some must give up careers they have studied and worked for.
People with MBC will never hear the words, “You are in remission.”
The best that people with MBC can hope for are scan results showing “no evidence of active disease” or “stable disease.” This means the lesions haven’t grown significantly since the last scan.
While some might think a scan showing no cancer means remission, when a patient has MBC, there is a very strong possibility that the cancer is too small to be detected at that time. There must be at least 100,000 cancer cells before it will show up on a scan. The next scan could show progression.
“How are you doing?”
Every patient’s cancer is different — their paths, their treatments, and their beliefs.
If baking soda, a specific diet, or a certain supplement was the cure for cancer, it would be well known everywhere.
People with MBC have a team of doctors to help them stay alive. These doctors have years of education and hands-on experience to help them pick the right treatments for their patients.
“How is treatment going?”
Avoid talking about friends or family members who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer or any kind of cancer who have passed or survived.
Again, everyone’s cancer is different. Hearing about someone who may have passed away or is a survivor is mentally straining.
Don’t say anything.
What worked — or didn’t work — for someone else may not have the same result for everyone with breast cancer. If your friend or relative had early stage cancer, it’s unfair to compare their experience with that of a stage 4 MBC patient.
Ultimately, it’s always better to say “I’m sorry. I’m not quite sure what to say. What is appropriate?” rather than asking a question that can be potentially triggering for someone with MBC.
A simple “How are you?” can go a long way. Rather than trying to give us advice or making assumptions about our treatment path, just check in with us, be there for us, let us vent, and listen with compassion.
Medically reviewed on October 11, 2022
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