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glioblastoma, what not to say to cancer patients

You Mean Well, But Stop Saying These Toxic Things to Cancer Patients

Throat Punch Sunday: Insensitive and Stupid People Edition

by Deborah Cruz

Estimated reading time: 0 minutes

Today’s Throat Punch is a bit of an emotional express train, but it’s an important one. Because while I fancy myself a bit of a comedic truth-teller most days, some situations require putting the funny-lady shtick aside momentarily. This is that moment. Apparently, we all need a tutorial ( a “What Not to Say to Cancer Patients ” for Dummies” if you will) so people can stop saying stupid AF and insensitive things to cancer warriors; to people we know and love. If you don’t stop hurting the feelings of people already dealing with the hardest moment in their life, I may have to put on my ass-kicking superhero outfit and throat punch you for them. You’ve been warned.

What is Glioblastoma?

We’re talking about cancer in general but glioblastoma, in particular, today -according to Cleveland Clinic, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common type of malignant (cancerous) brain tumor in adults. Cancer cells in GBM tumors rapidly multiply. The cancer can spread into other areas of the brain as well. Rarely, the cancer spreads outside the brain to other parts of the body.

Glioma tumors like GBM start in glial cells. Glial cells are vital to nerve cell function. GBMs specifically form in glial cells called astrocytes. GBMs are the fastest-growing astrocytoma (tumor that forms in astrocytes). It’s the kind of diagnosis that punches you in the gut and sinks your heart straight through the floor, no matter who you are.

I’ve had more friends than I care to recount bravely fight the cancer monster over the years. I’ve seen it turn vibrant humans into mere shells, ripping away independence, cognitive abilities, and bland normalcies we so casually take for granted each day. Right now, someone I love is facing the kind of diagnosis that knocks you to your knees. She’s one of the bravest and most brilliant women I know and the last thing she needs is to the suffer fools saying stupid ass shit to her online or in person. Thats why I’m writing this because you all need to use your common sense and ask yourself BEFORE you open your mouth, “How would I feel in her situation if someone said what I’m about top ask her?” and then shut your mouth. 

It’s a different kind of nightmare when the thing you’re battling resides in the very home base operating your entire physical existence – your brain. Glioblastoma is quite literally your own body turning against you in one of the cruelest, most insidious ways imaginable.

So if you’ve never been impacted by a loved one facing this reality, trust me – just be quiet and send up some gratitude. Because it’s a hell that vastly exceeds any offense my usual Throaty subjects could ever dish out.

But since we’re being radically candid today, I do have ONE thing I’d like to firmly THROAT PUNCH into submission:

What NOT to Say to Someone Battling Cancer

We’ve all been there – someone we care about gets dealt a world-shattering health prognosis. Glioblastoma, or otherwise. And despite our utterly pure intentions, we WILL say inadvertently awful, cringeworthy things in the aftermath as we grapple with how to act.

Comments that make us smack our foreheads in private, realizing we just barged straight into a fully-body-fazed moment of profound uncomfortable silence.

I’ve been that foot-in-mouth airbag inflater more times than I can count. I’ve also been the recipient of stupid and insensitive comments when I was at one of the hardest moments of my life. We want so badly to provide comfort, to say the “right” thing that’ll take away the suffocating weight, but we often shove our foot directly into the wound instead.

So consider this your official game plan for what to SHUT UP about when supporting someone going through hell:

  • No Comments About Causation, Vice or Fault

“Did you smoke/drink/eat too many processed foods when you were younger?”

No, Karen, they didn’t “do” anything to “cause” this. Cancer is an indiscriminate monster, period. Unless your genuine medical advice was solicited, stop trying to diagnose a way to rationalize the unthinkable.

  • No Platitudes or Toxically Positive BS

“Don’t worry, you’ll get through this! Everything’s gonna be just fine!”

Oh wow, super cool! I didn’t realize this was armageddon allergies and not, you know, a terrifying brain cancer! While positivity has its place, false reassurances often just gaslight away the person’s very visceral fears and struggles. Let them feel how they need to feel.

  • No Narcissistic± Sidetracking

“I once had this cousin who had a scare, and let me tell you…”

For the love of God, STOP. This isn’t your moment to make an irrelevant grand pivot and arrogantly make things about yourself for 28 minutes. Exercise restraint and make this about THEM.

  • No Unsolicited Treatment Instructions

“From what I’ve researched online, you shouldn’t be doing chemo – only natural remedies and a dairy-free juice cleanse!”

Unless “Dr. Facebook School of Health” is an accredited medical dynasty I missed, keep your unqualified treatment recs to yourself. Ask how YOU can best support whatever THEIR medical team suggests.

  • No Weird Existential Probing

“So…do you believe in the afterlife then?”

I CANNOT stress this enough: the name on the Grim Reaper’s ominous guest list is not yours to shortcut RSVP for! Blatantly morbid Qs only amplify fear and discomfort, so shut your literal forever piehole.

…And Above All Else: NO MAKING IT THEIRS

  • “Your/The Cancer…”

This fire-breathing monster FORCED its way into their life uninvited. It was not some assumed decision or claimed identity. It’s simply an unfair, horrific circumstance beyond their control that they’re being outrageously strong in fighting.

So make damn sure you don’t go accidentally making this THEIR personal “thing” to have with possessive language. It’s NOT THEIRS – it’s the disgusting affliction they have the profound audacity to keep rallying against each day. So afford them that vital distinction.

At the end of the day, someone facing a cancer nightmare doesn’t need your wacky armchair expertise or stifling social niceties. They need two very simple human superpowers from you:

  • A stubbornly present supportive ear to listen…

  • And a soul strong enough to look the dragon’s flame straight in the eye alongside them without flinching.

Just show up and BE THERE, through all the scary valleys and occasional picturesque peaks this horrendous road is sure to bring. Let them lead the conversation where they need it to go.

Do NOT co-opt their grief. This.Is.NOT.about.You.

I don’t care how terrible you feel, I know it sucks. but you need to be cool bitch. Hold it together. Only speak affirmations of your unwavering faith in their ability to keep fighting, and that you’ll be their kick in the pants when they need it most:

“I don’t know what’s coming, but I know YOU – and you’re stronger than whatever bull$#%* this thing will throw your way. I’m locked in, strapped in, and not letting go for a second until we’ve kicked cancer’s ass together, side-by-side. Whatever you need from me – whenever you need it – you’ve got it.”

Because at the end of the day, that’s all any of us really needs when facing the abyss:

The validation that we don’t have to be stronger than we’re capable of.

Just strong enough to never have to be stronger ALONE.

So let’s all take a big collective breath and do BETTER at being present for those being swallowed whole by this nightmare.

Say THE right things – or just shut up and SHOW UP with the strongest heart you’ve got. That’s more than enough to start.

Sending all my love and strength to every last warrior still waging this heaviest of battles today, especially my girl, Jill. You are the bravest souls, and you’ve got infinite love, light and support behind you for the hearty fight ahead.

If you know someone going through a cancer struggle, I implore you – check in on them. Ask how you can tangibly lighten any load, no matter how small. Offer to lend an ear without caveats. Stay involved in their journey without forcibly inserting yourself as a hype-person. Send them a meal for the family. Pick up the slack. Drive the kids to school. Do the laundry. Load the dishwasher. It might seem mundane but when you’re going through a life changing struggle, the little things matter. 

And most importantly, if they’re a parent facing this terror…ask what you can do to support their child or children too. The psychic/emotional/physical tolls of this beast impact entire families. Do what you can to ease that unbearable burden in any way they need.

We’re all in this life thing together – let’s start showing up that way for those doing the hardest pushing and shoving against darkness to keep seeing brighter days ahead. 

While you are here, if you want to do some good you can start here:

I don’t ask for much ever but Jill Smokler is one of my dearest friends and favorite people in the world. She is facing one of the most challenging moments in her life.
glioblastoma, what not to say to cancer patients,Jill Smokler
To know her is to love her and I f@cking love her… so much. She has made it her mission to help moms and women all over the world; from making them laugh and cry their way through motherhood, to putting Thanksgiving meals on tables for families who otherwise would have none, to helping us Gen Xers and Millennials laugh our way through our perimenopausal rage. She’s always been there for us and it’s time we’re there for her.
If you’ve ever enjoyed her stories on Scary Mommy, listened to the She’s Got Issues podcast, sat around a table or a pool under the warm Florida night or had the privilege and honor of knowing her, loving her and being her friend, please donate!
It is our turn to show up for Jill by relieving her of some of the massive financial burden that this fatal disease is causing so she can focus on fighting and being present for her three kids without the added stress of paying for medical expenses, experimental treatments and everything they entail, rehab, and the list goes on.
Let’s show Jill that this massive community she has touched is still here and in this fight with her!
Please donate here ( if you can) and please share this fundraiser far and wide!

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