Yes, you could get hit by a bus but…

Lots has already been written about what to say and what not to say to people who’ve got or who’ve had cancer. As for me, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I know there are certain phrases that I myself may have used in the past that I will never use again in any circumstances – except perhaps as a joke.

I’m aware I’m probably more sensitive to things like this now, and I know we often say things with the best of intentions, but I’m banishing the following from my vocabulary from here on in:

  • “It could be worse.” How often do we say this? Of course it could (almost) always be worse, but if you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, it could also be a whole lot better.
  • worse“You could get hit by a bus.” Again, of course you could, but it’s extremely unlikely. Everyone knows, or knows of, a good few women who’ve had breast cancer. How many people do you know or know of who’ve been hit by a bus*? The most recent figure I could find for pedestrian fatalities in road traffic accidents in Great Britain is for 2014 and it’s 446. And I imagine most of those casulaties will have been hit by a car, not a bus. In the UK, there were around 53,700 new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2013 and around 11,360 women died of breast cancer in 2014. There’s no comparison really, is there?
  • “We’ve all got to die of something.” This one now strikes me as particularly insensitive. Of course it’s true, but if you could choose how to die**, I’m assuming no-one would ever choose breast cancer, or indeed any kind of cancer.
  • “If you’re going to have cancer, breast cancer’s a good one to have.” I’d heard this and kind of accepted it as fact… without any knowledge whatsoever. I know why people say it. Breast cancers generally don’t grow as fast as some other cancers, it’s usually obvious how to treat breast cancer and lots of people who are diagnosed with breast cancer and treated are effectively cured – in that it doesn’t come back. But there’s no guarantee. Also, there’s breast cancer and there’s breast cancer; some cases are much more serious than others and there are different types, some of which are much harder to treat than others. The bottom line is that no cancer is good to have.

It’s obvious why we say phrases such as these. We have a need to try and rationalise things that happen to us that we weren’t expecting and that frighten us. Or we want to say something to reassure either ourselves or the people we’re talking to. Or we’re embarrassed and we feel words are better than silence. We mean well. Nonetheless, I won’t be saying these particular phrases again. I don’t think my vocabulary will be any the poorer for it.

*I do in fact know someone who was hit by a bus. She’s a very good friend and was on her bike at the time. Many years later she still has a dent on her chin from the encounter!

**If I had any say in the matter, I think I’d choose to die the way my 94-year-old mother-in-law died just this weekend… of old age, peacefully, in the company of loved ones. Lilian was an important and lovely part of our lives; we’ll miss her.

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14 thoughts on “Yes, you could get hit by a bus but…

  1. Hi Maureen, Very to sorry to hear of the passing of your mother-in-law. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.Love Mons x

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

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  2. Good line up of good riddance phrases. There are so many ways people try to sidestep their discomfort, it is indeed too bad that often the words chosen to do so cause more discomfort.
    I’m guessing that there will be a few others uttered to you and your family in response to your mother in law’s death. The loss of a beloved elder is difficult, even when they are gifted with a good death. May you and your family be surrounded by love and support as you transverse your grief.

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  3. OMG the damn bus thing–I do hate that one.
    The worst one of course is the we all have to die of something or sometime. Very insensitive. I’ve always been like–OK, you first, because cancer patients more likely to get there faster and I don’t want to. I think I wrote a post on that–will find and tweet later if I remember. Thanks for great post!

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  4. Good article, Dying while well in our hundredth year might be a good way to die. People do seem to say a lot of senseless things to patients with cancer, this can be especially true for doctors and palliative care staff who sometimes like to tell patients what they should think and how they should react. People should be allowed to have their own unique reaction.

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  5. I found this so funny but sadly so true! lol One of the worst things that people said to me was “stay positive”! Every time I heard them say it, I wanted to scream!!! If you have the time check out these 2 posts, I would love to hear your thoughts!!
    https://metastaticbreastcancernowwhat.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/staying-positive-warning-this-may-sting-a-little/
    https://metastaticbreastcancernowwhat.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/how-the-mind-changes/

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