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What to say when someone says How are you?

Posts: 135
Joined: Oct 2009

So, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January - getting the final results after my lumpectomy. 3 weeks later, I have recovered from the surgery, but I'm still reeling from knowing or not knowing what comes next. I still have to have my lymph nodes tested, and don't know what treatment I will need other than radiation so far.
I'm also likely going to have to deal with a reoccurance of thyroid cancer...this process is a waiting game, but the Dr is pretty sure it's back.

So, when someone comes by and says "How are you?" What is the correct answer...Oh, I'm feeling really crappy thanks, as I have 2 cancers that I am trying to beat...how are you?

I have to admit, I have been asked that at least 10 times in the last few weeks and I have said "fine and you?" (with a smile plastered on my face..)

I'm just getting tired of answering that...even for those that know what is going on...what are you supposed to say?? Oh, I'm really freaking out inside, scared out of my mind...can't look at my kids without crying...ya, that would work...instead I smile and say I'm ok...they usually answer with "Oh, your so strong" Like I have a choice...if walking around crying made it any better, I would...

How long will I be questioning the normalcies of every day?

When will this nightmare be over...

Sorry for going on...it's the normal day to day stuff that seems so sureal to me lately.

If anyone has any advise...what do you say when you're feeling so alone and scared and someone you barely know says "how are you?"

And, if someone you know and are close to, but you know they won't understand...what do you say??

Everyone says I seem so positive, and strong...I must be a really great actress...

I've barely told my husband how scared I am...he keeps saying you'll just have to go through some crappy stuff...like a few surgerys, radiation, maybe chemo or radioactive iodine...ya that's no big deal...just get through all that...stop worrying so much...oh and do it all at the same time...

Ok, I've complained enough...sorry to vent...just feeling alone...and having a meltdown...

KathiM's picture
Posts: 8077
Joined: Aug 2005

"Do you want the short version?, Then, I'm doing ok, all things considered..."

"If you want the long version...well....stop me when you get tired...I know I am...lol!"

We all do get tired, and discouraged, and just plain sick of being sick. So vent away! We all have!!! And we all here know the feelings of fear and isolation...

Hugs, Kathi

Posts: 135
Joined: Oct 2009

Hi Kathi...I like your answer...it made me laugh.

I just might quote you on the second option a time or two...:)

Hugs back at ya'

Posts: 6564
Joined: Oct 2010

Love your 2 replies. Great!

tjohnson2310's picture
Posts: 168
Joined: May 2010

I have been tempted to say do you really want to know. With that said if you feel comfortable sharing your true feelings with that person than do so. May be they can help. I understand where you are coming from when people tell you..you seem so strong so positive. I tell them yea I have my ups and downs...my husband responds the same way..but he reminds me he is just trying to stay positive.

Posts: 4
Joined: Feb 2011

You've got way too much going on right now!!! Do you have 1 person that you can really unload on? Sometimes that can help alot. Or you can do it here cuz just getting it out can help. As for everyone that asks how you are doing, why don't you respond with whatever you feel like at that moment? Sometimes I would say "I'm fine" and others I would say "I'm doing pretty lousy right now...". You don't owe it to anybody to have to act like you're fine when you're not. And it's not about them, it's about you. So let yourself say whatever comes to mind. If they seem uncomfortable with your response, maybe that will stop them from asking again. The last thing you need is the added stress of puting on appearances. People do ask cuz they are concerned but they should understand that there is no real good answer to that question. I truly hope that you will be feeling much better soon.

sweetvickid's picture
Posts: 459
Joined: Nov 2009

Most people really don't want to know. So I would just tell them all things considererd pretty good. The ones that really want to know would ask what does that mean.

Yep we are good actresses. All my life I have gotten in trouble for my attitude but once I have BC everyone would say what a great attitude!

Unfortunately no matter how many people we have around this it is a journey we make alone. And the only ones who truly understand are those who are doing or have done the journey.

CandaceMM's picture
Posts: 68
Joined: Jan 2011

Sweetvickid, I really needed to hear your post. Thank you for the powerful words.

Love, candace

Marcia527's picture
Posts: 2749
Joined: Jul 2006

I'd probably say just what you did and later to myself say, "I should have said..."

I always have a come back when it's too late. Maybe it's better that way.

I'm a private person and would not like telling everyone every detail. That's what these boards are for. lol. (Not really, I even hold back here)

chenheart's picture
Posts: 5180
Joined: Apr 2003

Most of my friends know I am battling a recurrance~ lately when I am asked The Question, I have been saying "Thanks,a little tired,but I'm holding my own!" And I of course smile.. :-)
Half of the time even I am not sure what that means, but it does rather say that I am not 100% well, but not 100% ill either, and that I am working on being more well than sick! Or something like that, anyway!


Ritzy's picture
Posts: 4382
Joined: Aug 2009

I have always felt that if someone asks you how you are doing, you should say whatever you feel like saying at the time. If you are not feeling well that day, tell them. If you are feeling good, then tell them that you are having a good day and feeling pretty good.

People wouldn't ask if they didn't care, so, always know that they ask because they do care and they are concerned.

I think they are always hoping that we will come back with saying that we are doing great so that the conversation about our bc will just stop there and because they love us and want us to be well. But, that isn't always the case.

People that love us are scared for us, but ofcourse, they don't want to let us know that even though we already know.

So, just say what's on your mind and what you feel comfortable with telling someone. But, just remember that they ask because they love you.

Sue :)

carkris's picture
Posts: 4554
Joined: Aug 2009

I am running into that at work. I went back to work and was very above board on my issues with my manager. assured that all was ok. Now I feel pressured to advance my hours, or cut my hours and therefore my benefits. all along I said this will take time. They say they understand but they dont. Pretty much I "look" good. I dont feel that good. I am exhausted and in pain. (neuropathy) and being on my feet 8-12 hours is very hard. Anyway, how to answer that question? If asked, what to say? I usually say "ok" if its a bad day or "fine" if its not awful. If I tell how I really feel I am whiney and complaining, if I dont then I am fine and why am I not working full shifts. cant win. I usually tell people who I am close to the real deal. and give the short version to others. I feel under a microscope and I know the fatique will improve and hopefully the neuropathy if they would give me time. (my timetable not theirs) actually my body isnt healing fast enough for me eitherLOL
sorry for the long rant this has really been stressing me out.
I know this is hard for other people to get, so post here often. It is so good to talk to people who speak your language. We get it.

Hippiechick58's picture
Posts: 320
Joined: Feb 2011

People hear what they want to hear. That has been my experience of BC. I try hard to look somewhat presentable to the world (that is, I try to wear my wig, my prostheses, and makeup) Most people say"OMG you look terrific! "You don't LOOK like you have cancer" Sometimes I will say"Yeah, well, I have my moments" Or sometimes if I am feeling daring, I will say, "Well, what does a cancer patient look like to you?"

And let's just face it, sometimes, people really don't want to know at all. They are just asking because it's the right thing to do. For those who are sincere, you could try,"I'm having a difficult day," or "I'm feeling better today, thank you."

No matter what you decide to say, remember, it is your life. You are the one with the cancer, you are the one who needs to be respected.

"May you be at peace; May you be free of Suffering."

Posts: 3644
Joined: Aug 2009

Unless we're goijng somewhere special, but that's how I've always been. I never go out without my pros. Usually have it on except when doing my MLD machine or going to bed (well showers/baths too). I wore a lot of scarfs - most I made - but once i got my second wig I wore it a lot. Liked the first one but in the winter winds it looked like a wig when worn out - second one didn't (more expensive), could wear it out in a blizzard and it still lookd like a 'pixie hair cut.


Posts: 3644
Joined: Aug 2009

It depends on who asks or where I am. Most of the time I just say "I'm doing great" which is true - I'm IBC and a year+ out of surgery, a little over a year after last batch of Chemo and almost a year out of Rads and as far as I know doing good (see Chemo Dr next Friday for 6 mth check up but have no reason to think there's anything going on now - I'm lucky and know it, Thank my Heavenly Father for that daily). Am I still the same person, same energy level as before, NOPE but I can and do whatever I want to - just don't mess with what doesn't matter in the scheme of my life. Back when on Chemo I probably said something like as good as can be expected most of the time. When on Rads - I said "Better daily" which was true until they were over - that's another story - that is very unusual.

If you don't want to give a direct answer or they are just parroting question "at" (not really "to" you)- then turn it back on them - "How are you doing?" or "Isn't it such a beautiful (nasty) day" or 'whatever'. Hubby says that he getting more questions from people we both know more now than before. His usual reply is "She's doing great - but the next time you see her, ask her.".

We're all different and there is no one answer for any of us to give to all. There are only 2 (well other than my Drs) that I am totally honest with - Hubby and Son. (Well try to be totally honest here.)


carkris's picture
Posts: 4554
Joined: Aug 2009

Sometimes i want to refer people to our posts and say you know "sometimes it reallysucks" but i dont want pity either. Its so complicated.

Posts: 3644
Joined: Aug 2009

Did I ever goof and just saw it - I signed as 'Hubby' - no he didn't write it I did - guess I was thnking about him. Someone had already replied to it so I can't change it.

Susan - (that's me!)

Gabe N Abby Mom's picture
Gabe N Abby Mom
Posts: 2415
Joined: Sep 2010

I'm glad you came here to vent, it's good to get that out. Sometimes just saying/posting it is enough to help you feel better.

When people ask how I'm doing I usually just say 'pretty good'. And it's usually the truth, I try not to go out and about when I'm down or not feeling good. At least until I've done something to help improve my spirits...music and the elliptical usually work for me. I've found the people who really want to know will ask a specific question like 'how did the surgery go?...with those people I will go into more detail.

I hope you're feeling better today, and I wish you peace.



Posts: 132
Joined: Dec 2010

Dear Survivor,
This is the place you don't need to apologize for venting, all the people here are totally okay with it, it's your honest true expression and we value it!! I agree with many of the wise posts on this page, especially that no one will really understand unless they are going through it.
What I'm trying to do, is not hold expectations, expect that people don't get it. I have to be honest with myself and recall when my good friend had cancer; there were only certain times I could endure the conversations about her treatment and condition. It would put such a pall over everything that I couldn't do it often. Some people have thicker skin but most don't.
I think we all live in certain mood spheres and want to be happy and feel life is good and safe. Hearing the kinds of news we have is challenging for people. It's asking a lot, from people who truly and really don't know what to say or do... they are frightened, and there is no "fix." So they do say How Are You without wanting to know too much.
I'm going to look for some info I found online about how to be a friend to someone w/ cancer. This doesn't really answer your basic question but it helps in friendship situations. I emailed it to my ex and it helped him be a better friend and helped me see his side. I never even discussed it with him in person!
Meanwhile sorry this got so long, I was really moved and hope you're finding the support you need here on the board. Please vent to your heart's desire...

Different Ballgame's picture
Different Ballgame
Posts: 868
Joined: Jan 2010

With the recurrence, my response was different the second time around. I found that people really did not want to hear the truth about how I was doing, except for my dearest friends. So...to most people I responded, "Doing fine." Then I found other breast cancer patients at support groups and on this board whom I could tell the truth about how I was feeling or what I felt.

For me, the key was that I could be honest but I had to wait to be honest. I had to wait for the breast support group meeting or wait for this board which gave me the opportunity to be honest.

Lots of Hugs,

natly15's picture
Posts: 1941
Joined: Sep 2009

many times I said, "Hanging in there". I found people really didnt want to know what I was feeling, at least the people I know didnt. If I would really try to tell someone what I was really going thru, they would either change the subject or tell me about someone they knew that was going thru the very same thing I was going thru. I found it best to just shut up and not discuss it. I knew what I was going thru and that's all that really mattered to me. I was most grateful for CSN because everyone here really understood and I poured my heart out on these boards.

Posts: 2515
Joined: May 2009

This is the place to do it!

I had different replies for different people....the ones who would ask and I knew, truly cared, I would give a "at the moment, okay, subject to change at a moment's notice.". Then there were the ones who were just asking to be polite..for those they got. "I'm okay." ....Then there were the ones and there were 3, that only wanted the gory details, gossips..I learned from family lawyers and politicians to answer a question with a question...my question to them, and I really didn't mind being rather rude to them, was..." Why do you ask?" This stumped them every time! They couldn't wait to get away from me and that's just what I wanted! So for me, it depended on who was doing the asking. Like so many of us, I got tired of putting on the happy face.. Now that I am almost 17 months out of all treatment, my reply is..."I am in remission and loving everyday!"

Wishing all of us snappy answers!

mollyz's picture
Posts: 753
Joined: Sep 2010

I get that all the time and i really think everybody does care,I have people come up to me i haven't seen in a long time and ask how i am and i can look in there eyes and see that they know by way of a family member or my husband and then some ask the same question and i can tell they don't know so i don't say anything.I feel this site is the only place i can talk about everything and everybody can relate some kind of way i talk about all the ladies as if i actually see you daily because you've become more like close friends to me and i guess always will be. MOLLYZ

Posts: 1048
Joined: Aug 2006

Still above ground last time I checked! (to the one who insisted I tell her how I REEALLY feel).

Posts: 1416
Joined: Mar 2001

Most people don't want negativity of any kind around them. My friends always asked and only once did I ever actually tell someone how I really felt instead FINE being the answer.

The fellow actually did stop me when I said not very good and put his hand in front of my face and said he didn't want to hear it.
I said for him next time not to ask because I actually might be honest for a change.

I believe as much good there is bad and we don't have dwell on it and stop from being able to move our feet in a forward motion. We are the one's who keep ourselves stuck in it and people should actually be asking questions that actually matter to them or what is it truly worth.
Hi to you girl, KathiM liking what you said as well.

jessiesmom1's picture
Posts: 869
Joined: Jun 2010

"So, when someone comes by and says "How are you?" What is the correct answer?"
..just feeling alone...and having a meltdown...

Hi Survivor73,

Obviously there is no single "correct" answer to the How Are You question. You have already gotten a number of good suggestions in response to your post. Every single one of us has had to answer that same question. I think the answer very much depends on precisely who is doing the asking. Like I tell my children (ages 18 and 20) when they have to give a presentation: You have to know your audience. My own stock answer usually was: Well, I am still standing upright, so what more could I want? Then I give the questioner a weak smile.

As to having a meltdown: Been there, done that, still doing it. I had a complete axillary dissection, then a mastectomy, and then 16 rounds of chemo. 3 months after chemo ended I had shoulder surgery because I developed adhesive capsulitis (aka frozen shoulder). I think I have every right to melt down occasionally. That is a lot to go through. My worst time is when I wake up at 4 a.m. and it is dark and quiet and no one but the dog is around. It does get better though. The range of motion on my arm is improved, my hair is growing back, my energy level is up and most of my fingernails look normal again.

Right now you have a lot on your plate and you said you don't know what is coming next. Well, in my mind that would cause anyone to melt down. I am sure everyone on this board would agree. Good luck.

pinkflutterby's picture
Posts: 615
Joined: Jun 2009

I hate it when people say "You look so good" I just want to say crap how bad did I look before!!! LOL

When they ask how I am I say "I'm keepin on keepin on and I'm just happy I'm here to complain"

PinkPearl's picture
Posts: 280
Joined: Oct 2010

I read all of the posts because I needed some different ways to say things too. I think if you are having a bad day you can at least give an honest answer without going in to a lot of detail. That way you won't feel as though you are being a fake because that doesn't make you feel validated or honest. Sometimes I say, "Well I have had better days" or "Really tired and stressed today but tomorrow always comes". Sometimes answering this way has opened the other person up to share something bothering them as well.
I try to tell my husband and children more detail but I do try to be upbeat with my children (all adults) because I don't want to cause them to worry needlessly.

I find myself wishing my sister had told me more about her reoccurance last year but it was difficult for both of us because of all the emotions involved between us. We talked every night almost though we lived 700 miles apart. I think she was more able to talk to her friends about her fears than to me. She never shared her gut feelings with me and I so wish she had. I was so afraid of saying something that would make her lose faith or not keep fighting even when things were not going well for her.

The lonely times are hard and pop up at the craziest moments and places. I was shopping and saw something that just triggered tears and once I saw a dog all dressed up with flowers on its head and it made me think of my childhood with my sister and more tears!! Dear Survivor, just know that you are not alone and never be sorry to vent or have a meltdown. It would be the rare person never to have one, I think.

Posts: 135
Joined: Oct 2009

I had a much better day today...went to my son's hockey game...they won, yay!!

Anyway, as soon as I walked in I saw a group of parents that I know well and said Hi!.

They all answered how are you??

I started to laugh...and said fine...then I pulled aside one of the ladies and I explained about this board and what I wrote last night and felt a whole lot better...my friend laughed and said, ok, no more asking how you are...you just tell me whatever is going on...

It's funny, I don't mind when she asks cause I tell her the truth...we've gotten close as our sons played hockey together last year...

Anyway, it seemed to put things in perspective a little better and laughing about it always helps:)

Thank you all for your comments and giving me room to vent when I need to (and not telling me to suck it up)...there's tears in my eyes as I read this...it's an unbeleivable feeling to get so much emotion and support from strangers...but you are not strangers, you are sisters...thanks again!

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