Below are five things not to say to a woman pre or post mastectomy. No doubt everyone has much to add to this list. These are just the five that stand out for me. Please know that if you have already said any of the below to me or another woman in a similar situation, it’s okay. Really. I’m typing with a smile on my face grateful for the incredible community that supports me - even if you say the wrong thing.
Please just take heed.
“You’re so lucky they caught it early”
On a daily (if not hourly) basis, I can count my blessings and curse my diagnosis. Having a breast cut off and a few lymph nodes removed; facing an 8-inch scar every morning in the mirror, the shower, while changing; dispatching a good portion of a wardrobe that will not accommodate a prosthetic breast; a daily medicine that has thrown my body into all sorts of unrest; the constant, niggling fear of recurrence in the back of my head; uncomfortable, over sensitized skin on the back of my arms and chest - none of this feels particularly “lucky.”
I am absolutely grateful because things could certainly have been worse but lucky would have been winning Powerball.
“Well now you can just get bigger ones”
You know, buying bigger breasts has always been an option. And the path to augmentation is certainly a lot less complicated because it’s a choice made without the addition of a cancer diagnosis. Results could be considered a whole helluva lot more aesthetically pleasing when individuals end up with a nipple in place and without a diagonal scar across your chest.
What is available to me is not augmentation but reconstruction.
Rebuilding what has been taken away.
Anything that starts with “my friend” and ends with “she died”
While this should be common sense, I have heard it multiple times from multiple people.
But I get it. You want to show me you understand so you start with a story to help illustrate this understanding but, as you walk through that story, you realize the ending is less than stellar and certainly not something to share with a woman who is walking a similar path.
Just stop yourself.
Just stop. Cough. Sneeze.
Excuse yourself to use the restroom.
Just don’t get to the part where you say, “The cancer came back and she passed away.”
This is so not helpful.
“Losing a breast is so much easier than radiation”
This came out of someone’s mouth. Really. Funny thing is, she didn’t have cancer, never had a cancer diagnosis, had two natural breasts and had never had even one session of radiation.
“You’re strong, you’ll be fine”
This is, without a doubt, the most well-meaning of the no-nos.
Please know this: I am strong but I don’t always feel that way. Please let me be a blubbering mass of fear for a few minutes a week.
And then be there with a hug.
I may well be fine but some days it doesn’t always feel that way. So please remind me that I am strong and that, when I’m not feeling strong, you’re right there to hold my hand and hug me tight.
Again, if any the above has slipped past your teeth's barrier, it’s okay. Just remember that sometimes (most times) the best thing to say is what you really mean:
- “That sucks.”
- “I don’t know what to say right now but I’m thinking positive thoughts and hoping for the best of everything.”
- “I wish this weren't happening to you.”
- “I love you.”