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I want people to ask "how are you doing?" instead of "how is your sister doing?". How do I do this?

Posts: 1
Joined: Jul 2010

My sister originally had cervical cancer, by the time they found it, it had already spread to her lymph nodes. It metastasised to her lungs, esophageal and surrounding areas. At this time she is stage 4 and on the decline.

I have shared with a few of my friends that my sister is dying. Without fail the next time I see them they ask me "how is your sister?". I know that this is a normal response and that they ask because they care.

I usually answer them by saying "shes very sick" which seems redundant when I've already told them that my sister has stage 4 cancer. I'm always stuck at this point because I don't want to go into details about her condition. I don't want to tell them she is fine because it would be a lie.

I feel that it would be helpful if they asked how I'm doing because it will give me a chance to share my feelings and not feel so alone.

My question is how can I politely give a response that deflects away from asking about her and instead asking about me?

Posts: 1048
Joined: Aug 2006

I am hoping some caregivers can give their ideas on how to handle the caring but personal questions on how things are going, but here's my reflections for now. I'm a survivor and it used to gripe me to no end when folks would ask me directly "How ARE you doing?" I'm sure they meant well. Sometimes though, I didn't want to get into all the details because I might lose control (not a good thing at work), sometimes I didn't want to think about it, and sometimes I wanted to be just a normal person and not a cancer diagnosis. One of my fellow survivors at the start of her treatment just told everyone at work that she hoped they would understand but she just didn't want to be asked about her health or treatment while she was undergoing chemo and radiation. I work with great folks who of course obliged. I was a lot more open when I was diagnosed, especially at first. I didn't mind talking the first year about most anything, but by year 2 the "How ARE you?" question (which sounded like "when are you going to have to quit your job because you are sick?") was getting to me. One day, after a phone call from the doctor to come in for tests for ovarian cancer (this on top of a breast cancer diagnosis--I only got lung cancer diagnosed four years later), a friend asked the "How ARE you? question.I lost it and rather dumped a few too many details on exactly how I was and stomped off to my office to cry my eyes out. I went back and apologized later and told her more calmly how the question upset me. Fortunately she didn't take it too personally and was kind enough to let the others know to quit asking about my health for awhile. That was also about the time I joined a support group so I would have a more appropriate outlet for my feelings than my friends and fellow employees.

I don't suggest you have a melt-down, but you might think of telling a key person or two exactly what you want, something like "I am really trying hard to stay strong and it will help if you don't ask about my sister." That's like my fellow survivor who just told us point blank not to ask. Also, you might try finding a support group of caregivers so you can vent with folks that have been there and understand. It probably saved my marriage when I found the support I needed by going to a survivor's group rather than unloading on my husband. He did what he could, but I needed more. My fellow employees and friends who hadn't been through it really couldn't provide what I needed either. So the support group recommended by my doctors turned out to be a life saver--maybe a friend and marriage saver too!

Nowdays, in spite of the lung cancer diagnosis on top of the breast cancer stuff (the ovarian cancer turned out to be a false alarm), I just say "Fine, and how ARE you?" I have become much more adept on changing the subject and not sharing more details than I want to share. If I do feel like educating someone on cancer and its treatment, I talk more. If not, changing the subject works. And when I find I am getting too emotional, I get with one of my fellow survivors and chat.

Good luck!

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