Surviving “How are You?”

One unexpected challenge of my early survivorship was the question “How are you?”  In particular, I didn’t want people asking me that all the time when I was with my children, because it focused everyone’s attention on my illness.

On the rough days I could have lied and said “Fine, thanks.” And sometimes I did. But lies and half-truths make me uncomfortable. So I asked my friends to just say “Hi” as they do for everyone else and to please NOT ask “How ARE you?”

I explained why, too, saying, “We talk about cancer enough already. My children need windows of time when cancer is not part of the picture, especially at school and after-school activities.

I acknowledged the difficulty my request may pose for people who want — even need — to express empathy. “Your concern touches my heart. ”

I offered an alternative to asking in front of my children. “You can always email, write or call me when I’m not with the kids for cancer talk.”

And I thanked them. “Thank you for understanding and respecting what helps me deal with this.”

Lastly, I couldn’t worry about what they thought of my approach. I had to do what I felt was right for my children. If their reaction caused me some self-doubt, I’d touch base with a voice of reason (such as the oncology social worker or my oncology nurse) to make sure my approach was justifiable and sound.

Mothering through cancer for me entailed doing what was best for my family, even when it might be uncomfortable or offensive to others.

3 Responses to Surviving “How are You?”

  1. squawky says:

    As someone who doesn’t always know what to say in these situations – sometimes the “how are you?” is an awkward way of saying “I want you to know that I care about how you are feeling, but I don’t know if you want to talk about it right this minute.”

    Is there a good way to deflect the conversation that isn’t too fake? “We have a busy afternoon today, but I’m glad to have some mommy/kid time. How about you?”

    (Pressing the subject with “no, I meant how are you feeling today” is rude, I agree, though.)

  2. this is a great reminder. thank you.

  3. Spruce Hill says:

    Good idea of what to say. I really feel uncomfortable when people ask me that in front of my kids!

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