Where For Art Thou, Miss Manners?

Well, I was all ready to lament about the lack of information out there on cancer etiquette, but as it turns out someone did indeed write a book, so I guess that's one to add to the library request list.

Still, I'm glad to see that there is a resource out there for people who love people with cancer, but what about those of us on the other side of the tumor? While you generally know what's expected of you in those social events that are common but happen relatively infrequently (wedding, birth of child, funeral, etc.), what the hell am I supposed to be doing now, besides going through treatment like a good little cancer cog?

For instance, friends and relatives have been incredibly generous, sending all manner of gifts to lift my spirits and let me know that they're thinking of me. I'm pretty sure I know who would be satisfied with a simple e-mail thank you, but what about those folks from the older generation? Are they expecting thank you notes for their care packages? Or would sending a note make them feel guilty somehow? Of course, the longer I stew the longer I don't send anything--snail or electronic--guaranteeing that I'm committing a faux pas regardless...

As for the cancer faux pas I've experienced thus far, I do kinda cringe at anyone making a comment about my appearance or weight, but then I've always been sensitive about people telling me I look tired. Now I get "you look pale" on top of that. Um, I'm an Irish lass living in dead-of-winter Wisconsin. Any white person that isn't pale this time of year will probably have the complexion of a catcher's mitt in 20 years.

But yeah, I know--I look like shit these days. A 6 month old with a cold will do that to a person, never mind the cancer.

As for the weight thing (and shout out to you know who--I'm not mad, I swear)...it's weird. I mean, as a woman just coming off of a pregnancy, it's hard to not feel good about fitting into my skinny pants again, even though I know the reason why is pretty much the furthest thing from any die-hard dedication to some grueling aerobic training regimen.

Then there was the nurse that weighed me the other day before my appointment with Dr. Ovaries. Once the scale equalized, I started to get off, but then the nurse hit a button to record my weight in kilos, and I must have made some air-sucking noise, as in "Oops! Hope I didn't fudge that up for ya."

She must have interpreted the sound as "Ooh, guess I had too much nog and fruitcake over the holidays!" as in I was a little surprised to see the weight so high, because she replied with "Oh, that's probably just because you have your shoes on..." The thing of it is, that weight was on the low side for me, especially with shoes. So, my take away is she thought my weight was high. And I know it was low [for me]. Which apparently isn't low enough...or something.

All that being said, here's a suggestion for those of you who see people with cancer in your day-to-day: If you feel compelled to say something nice, compliment them on their coat/purse/shoes. Otherwise, ask them how they're feeling without chasing their response with "Yeah, you look tired..." Because that only makes us feel even more tired.

I watched Holly's (as in Hope For Holly) head shaving party video for the first time today and holy SHIT did it make me cry...but she had some really great anecdotes about living with cancer, one of which really hit home for me.

She said that, on her good days, she would sometimes get a taste of what it was like to feel good again--without the pain and the nausea and the fatigue--and forget about her cancer for a little while. And her advice for those people with loved ones in a staring contest with cancer was to not give them the "sad eyes," because--while you are undoubtedly trying to put your most compassionate foot forward--you might be catching them in one of those blissfully forgetful moments and wind up snatching them out of that fleeting normalcy, reminding them that they are, in fact, sick.

And this is where I'm a total fucking hypocrite. This blog is all about my cancer. You come to this website to check up on me, to see how I'm feeling because/in spite of my illness. We are all here because I have a goddamn tumor in my ass that could end me.

Ah, I clearly want to eat my cake and have it, too. To paraphrase a junkie nut-job, I want to be the girl with the most cake. And I pray that someday you won't ache like I ache.

Addendum: The worst cancer faux pas I've experienced thusfar? An [apparently sober] New Year's Eve email from someone I thought was a friend that only said "Aren't you dead yet?"

This isn't some oddly-shaped mole I'm having removed, asshole. I'm not dead, but our relationship clearly is.


Vance said...

So how about cancer blog reader etiquette? Are we allowed to snicker at your response to New Years Asshole?

'Cause that made me cringe and laugh at the same time.

If not, it's cool. No hard feelings. I'm good. Sorry. My bad...

( he says as he slowly backs away from the drawer with the rolling pin)

j9 said...

I still have some NJ ass-kicking potential in me, let me know if you need me to use it - - i can't believe that email!

Anonymous said...

needless to say, some people will always be douchebags, no matter what the circumstances. unfortunatley, in the worst of times, they just get to show their true stripes.

in terms of the thank you question. I would guess that any acknowledgement that you can get out (email, phone message, etc.) is enough. I've always thought that a thank you letter was really just to let someone know you got the gift (especially if it is sent by mail). So once you've done that, you are golden.

I would be shocked if anyone was going to turn you into to Miss Manners b/c you couldn't write an appropriate thank you, and if so send J9 after then, they deserve the ass kicking in that case.

Tricia said...

I'll have to put that etiquette book on my list as well. I'm always worried about saying (writing/emailing) the wrong thing, which means that often I don't say anything at all: the flip side of a bad penny, but that still doesn't prevent that faux pas that occassionally and inadvertantly (and often unknowingly) tumbles out when I do write.

As to thank you's, I would think that being on the receiving end of cancer is a bit of a free pass when it comes to formal thank you's. Like anonymous said, any acknowledgement is a nice thing and more than enough.

Sugarmouth O'Riordan said...

Jinxy/Vance--Snicker away. My email response was "You were always a mean drunk," to which he responded he was sober, going out with mutual friends, thinking of me, yadda yadda...I know his comment wasn't coming from a mean place, but your don't fucking say that to a person with cancer.

Neaner--I *know* you got my back. ;)

Anon--Are you as amused/happy as I that the word douchebag has come back?

Tricia--Honestly, some of my favorite emails that I've gotten from people were highlights from their otherwise mundane life. I know it seems counter intuitive, but I really like hearing about what's going on with *you* since what's going on with me is like frickin' Cancer Groundhog Day.

As for my free pass...I know I should use discretion when playing the cancer card, but it's nice to know I can pull it when I need to.

Anonymous said...

Ah, douchebag, an insult that really gets you your bang for the buck. Fun to say, and it brings forth fabulous imagery. One must wonder were it went all these years.

Clearly the emailer was the right person to pin the label on. what I find even more annoying than general bad form in the inability to recognize such bafoonery. Is he that stupid that even when called out, he can't recant or at least try to cover up?

megB said...

OK. As a gift giver i think i can speak for all gift givers. We are trying to do something for you....we feel a bit helpless and need to feel like we are doing SOMETHING. You having that nagging feeling that you have to get the thankyou note out in 7-10 days (we can thank mom for that) is totally against the point of giving you the gift....you know?? we are not trying to give you another chore in your hectic life.

We love you.
No need to thank us for that, OK???

And you are fucking beautiful even on your worst day. From the pics and v-tv shots I have seen...you are so beautiful. I am sorry I didn't tell you sooner, because i was thinking it. Some people just don't have anything better to say than you look tired....i hate that, I am sure they hate it too.

Sister, you are sooo beautiful. period.

So 1990 said...

Did douchebag really go out of style as an insult? Shoot! I've been using it all this time. That's just so me.