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Cancer’s Details, Is Anybody Really Interested?

Last October I received an email from  Sirius Radio station 102 (XM 155) in Washington, D.C. asking me if I wanted to share my breast cancer story with listeners on the program hosted by Molly and Christine called “Broadminded.” I felt flattered someone had taken the trouble to find my blog and ask me to do such a thing, so even though it made me a bit uncomfortable; I told myself I had to do it – for the cause, of course.

A few days later the show’s producer contacted me again to set up a time for my “interview.” That’s when I realized they had no interest in the details of my story; they only wanted a 60 second snippet. They were planning to air a segment every day for thirty days called, “Thirty Survivors in Thirty Days,” to be played as part of their breast cancer awareness campaign. I was to be one of their featured survivors.

At that point I felt disappointed and reconsidered whether or not I should even do the piece. You might say I was quickly humbled, or cut down to size. The magnitude of my story, for the outside world anyway, had been severely downsized. After thinking about it a bit, I decided to go ahead after concluding this was an honest attempt by two women trying to make a difference via their radio platform. (Thank you Molly and Christine). A few days later my “interview” was recorded. I tried to come up with something meaningful to say, not that easy when you only get a few minutes, ultimately to be whittled down further by the editor to a mere 30 seconds or so.

This experience was forgotten until recently when the station emailed me my recording. I decided to share it with you on my blog, so I put the link at the end of this post if you want to listen to my edited 30 second words of wisdom!

What I learned from this was that not that many people really want to know ALL the DETAILS about your cancer. When people ask, “How are you feeling? Or How are you doing?” not that many of them REALLY want to know. And that’s OK! Imagine how exhausting it would be if they DID!

Last spring shortly after my diagnosis, I attended a party where several people were gathered at my table that had yet to be told about my cancer diagnosis. During the course of the conversation, someone turned to me and asked, “Well, what’s new with you?” and I blurted out my story. I mean it was the only thing on my mind at the time and the words just came out, plus they were people who needed to be told. Immediately everyone at the table tensed up as eyes shifted uneasily in my direction. I quickly decided to condense my story down, way down, and just get it over with. I felt like I was reading a misplaced chapter in a book out loud to a group of listeners expecting to hear a different story!

I was never so happy to leave an event!

Then there is my oncologist, a very sweet and caring man, but I never really feel like he wants to know too much detail. 

For example, during my chemo phase he always asked about side effects and how I was doing, but never seemed overly concerned when I described them because, I guess, they weren’t bad enough! Sometimes it made me frustrated, but then I realized he was too busy to sit there and listen to my, in his eyes, “minor ailments.”

Cancer details just make many people uncomfortable. Some people, even in my own family, don’t like to hear too much detail. Others want a bit more and still others want to know everything. It’s not that they don’t all care, it’s just cancer isn’t upper most in their minds like it is for me and they don’t need or want to be saturated with all the details. Figuring out how much to tell people is sometimes tricky.

At this point, after completing most treatment, it gets even trickier because now I’m supposed to be “over it.” When people ask me these days how I’m doing, I generally just say, “Oh, I’m doing pretty well, thank you, how about you?” Not very much detail there, but most people are OK with that, in fact, that’s all they want to hear. Often times I can actually see them breathe a sigh of relief.

If you are a cancer patient or survivor, in my opinion you need at least one other person (other than the online community, which I have found to be essential as well) you can confide all the “not so pretty” details to. There has to be at least somebody (even a pet can fill this role if need be) with a sympathetic ear to whom you can really open up to about every ache, pain, fear, symptom, sleepless night or whatever it might be. (Thank you David).

If you are lucky enough to have even one other person who is truly interested in ALL the details, you are blessed!

David likes to “brag” about my “interview” on satellite radio to relatives and others now. He enjoys teasing me by calling me a “celebrity” in front of them. He never mentions my edited-down “interview” was only thirty seconds. I guess they might know now!

If you’re interested,  here’s the link to my 30 seconds of “fame” on Sirius radio. No details included! (The first person you hear really is a celebrity, Robin Roberts from Good Morning America).

 Sirius Radio Interview

What do you tell people when they ask, “How are you?” or “What’s new?” (this doesn’t just have to be a “cancer situation.”) How much detail do you like to give? Do you have someone you confide everything to?

28 thoughts on “Cancer’s Details, Is Anybody Really Interested?

  1. Way to go Nancy, you’re famous! 😉 I thought I was a pretty big deal when I was on my little ol’ college’s radio statio reporting the news on Wednesdays for 5 minutes. And when I won my international grant last spring, all my sorority sisters and I huddled around the TV in our living room to watch my 60 second interview on the news- haha! Little moments of fame!

    Your post today reminded me of how I would respond to that question when I first lost my mom. I was single a few months afterward, and it was literally the first thing that came out of my mouth when I met someone. How obnoxious! It’s like a horribly awkward sitcom now looking back on it. The guy would either a. say sorry and change the subject, b. say that sucks and make a bee-line for the nearest exit, or c. if we were at the bar and he was drunk enough, would delve into some overly personal story about his life and how he could relate that left ME looking for an escape! Worst idea ever! Eventually, I caught on and when someone asked me what my mom did for work (who asks that in the first 5 minutes of meeting someone, anyway?) I said- oh… she’s unemployed.

    😉

    1. Sami, I’m sure figuring out what to tell people about your mom when you first meet is sometimes quite awkward. Just how much detail a person should give about personal stuff is always kinda tricky. Yes, those fleeting moments of fame… Thanks for your comments, Sami!

  2. Hi Nancy. Well you’re 30-seconds into achieving your “15-minutes” of fame….well done ! Cancer talk is awkward and uncomfortable as well as the irritating questions of “How are you?” and “How are you feeling…”. Sometimes it’s very difficult to judge how much detail people do want to hear. As you say some want every detail from your medical file (like my mother), others just want to hear that you’re ok (most people), and others wont’ even go near the subject (all the others). Does make it difficult though when you do really need to talk about it. That’s when the support network becomes so invaluable. Being able to talk to people who’ve been through it. So what do I say to the “How are you feeling” question ? I just turn it around and say How are YOU feeling”. Generally causes a moment of confusion, but takes the heat off me. 😉

  3. Well done Nancy – you sounded great on air!
    That whole ‘How are you?’ just becomes so loaded. Because some days I’m up and some days a I’m down and I sort of get the idea that people don’t REALLY want to know when they ask. I’ve learnt from being honest and then seeing that look in their eye when you just know they didn’t want to hear any details – and they certainly didn’t want you to say the C word! So, with most people I just say ‘OK’ and change the subject. That’s why this online community is so essential to me as well.

    1. Sarah, Thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting. I’m impressed with your book and other work. I imagine you are interviewed all the time and are a real pro at it!

  4. Hi Nancy, I think that it is great you went ahead with being interviewed, every little bit of information we share might help just one other person, even if it is only 30 seconds! Yes, I find it hard to decide how much to tell and I have narrowed it down to a few very close friends and family who I know really do want to know all the details, and who can HANDLE all the details. The rest of the people I say, “I’m doing great!” I figure even if it isn’t true right then, hopefully it will be soon:)
    Debbie

    1. Debbie, Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, the people you tell all the details to have to be able to handle all the details, as you say. Hadn’t really thought about that!

  5. Nancy,
    Congratulations! You sounded so natural and your words were meaningful. The amount of time did not lessen the powerful message. Everyone should hear the message but most do not want to hear it. Things like cancer and death happen to other people,right? Wrong! At some time we all are in the “other people” group. I felt like I was in the “other people’group when I lost Jenny. You were willing to listen to my details. May I listen to yours?

    1. Lori, Thanks for reading and commenting. You’re right, we always think this stuff happens to “other people.” I’ve thought about Jenny and that time recently, mostly remembering how helpless I felt to help. I’ll have to fill you in some of the details sometime. I know you’d be a good listener.

  6. Nancy, this made me cry. You did a really wonderful job – both in the interview and in this post.

    We don’t have as much time as we thought – something my husband and I struggle with as we try to figure out where to buy our house and raise our 2 kids. We do have to go for it – because we really don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. That was a wonderful reminder.

    And details? My husband is the only person with whom
    I can truly be open about all the details. And even then, I find myself being selective. Sometimes I wanted to hug the people who were asking after my health because they looked so dang uncomfortable. 🙂

    But my cancer trip has changed how I interact with other people going through extreme stress, whether from disease or just bumps in life. From being in their shoes, I know I don’t have to be afraid of their details. That I am not helpless. I can listen, and that helps. I don’t need to make any contribution beyond that. And that’s kind of freeing.

    And look at this great conversation you started!

    1. Cyn, Thanks for your heartfelt comments, as well as the compliment. I really wanted my message to focus on the fact we don’t have as much time as we think we do, so I was glad they didn’t edit that part out. I’m glad you have your husband to share most of it with, although like you, there are tiny pieces of the details that belong only to me. Thanks for being part of the conversation!

  7. Nancy, I’m so happy you agreed to the interview. I didn’t know I’d say this before I started blogging, but the more we talk about it, the better. If people don’t want to know, don’t ask. I laughed when I read your words about cancer being upper most in your mind, but not others. So true. The whole reason I’m thankful for this online community.

    I just tell people I’m good and leave it at that, unless they’re truly close friends and ask more specific questions. But, I think it’s just easier for everyone to believe all is well.

    Nice post. Oh, and welcome to Facebook!

    1. Stacey, Thanks for commenting! Yes, it felt awkward since I’m not an out-going person, but I wanted to do it. I had to do it. I usually just say I’m fine, too, when people ask how I am and usually that’s the truth! And yeh, it’s about time I got on FB!

  8. You did a great job and said alot in your 30 seconds of fame. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. When people ask me how I am, I also keep it pretty general, details are just more than most people want to know(and can handle)Thankfully I do have a supportive husband who is willing to listen.

  9. What an interesting post Nancy – your posts always make me think about some new aspect of my own journey. I do so relate to what you are saying and I also think that your story about the radio interview should serve as a warning note to others. I speak from experience here.

    When I was going through my treatment 5 years ago, I was asked to be interviewed as part of a documentary on a national radio channel here in Ireland. Like you, I wanted to tell my story to help other young women. I found it very emotional and shed a few tears which I was told wouldn’t be part of the final edit. The interviewer was skilled in getting me to speak as if to a friend (this took place in my home not a studio so I felt freer to speak). When the show was broadcast, I was horrified. I was part of a series of interviews with other women, all intercut to make it sound like I was some kind of crying wreck having a terrible time coping with my diagnosis – it was all in the editing. It upset me for a very long time, and I swore I wouldn’t be caught out like that again – I felt I had been used to suit the producer’s preconceived ideas of what made a cancer “victim” (which isn’t me at all!)

    Fast forward to this year and I took part in a studio discussion on another radio show with two other women going through treatment. I was much more in control and able to get my points across the way I wanted to, but I couldnt’ help but notice how emotionally raw it was for the other two women.

    I think these shows are wonderful in many ways, but I hope that the producers can be more aware of how what it is like for the women who may be feeling vulnerable and dealing with a lot of raw emotions, which need the passage of time to integrate.

    Thanks for another interesting post and for allowing me the opportunity to make a point, I didn’t even know I needed to make!

    Marie

    1. Marie, Thanks for your insightful comments. I’m sorry your interviewer was so deceptive that first time and that the experience impacted your feelings negatively for so long. Sounds like your interview this year went a whole lot better! You raised good points here, Marie. Thanks.

  10. Nancy, you said a lot in a short amount of time!! Very perceptive and congratulations on a very well-deserved spot on Sirius Radio.

    I agree that cancer is an ugly subject for many people. When they ask a cancer patient/survivor “how are you,” many don’t really want to know.

    I’ve been told years after my last treatment, “You need to get over this thing!” Meaning, of course, psychologically. I don’t think one afflicted by cancer ever gets over it. In the meantime, I do what you do — say “fine” and act like I’ve fully moved on.

    Great posting!!

    1. Beth, Yes, you can’t really “get over it” can you? Even without cancer in the picture, most people don’t want to know too many details when they ask you how you are. Thanks for your comments. Glad you got home safely.

  11. Nancy,

    What a wonderful, thought provoking and comforting blog. I am inspired by your words, and hope to join the online world of sisters in this adventure. As is so often the case, your message arrived at just the right time in my life.

    You said so much and so well and gracefully in your 30 seconds!

    I look forward to enjoying your blog!!

    1. Pamela, Thank you so much for finding my blog and taking time to comment. I am still stunned by your news. It will take me a bit of time to process it. I wish you didn’t have to be part of this particular sisterhood, but since you have landed here, welcome! (not sure if welcome is the right word, but as I said I’m stunned!) Thinking of you…

  12. Nancy,

    Thanks for pointing me towards this post. Great job on the radio interview! You hit the nail on the head. If I have learned anything in the past year, it is that time flows oh-so-swiftly and I don’t want to waste a moment of it.

    PS If friends and family can manage nothing else, a simple “How are you?” means more to me than they will ever know. It’s when they don’t even *ask* — that’s just not OK. You know what I mean?

    1. Renn, Thanks so much for checking out this post. And thanks for the compliment, although my ‘interview’ was not really an interview, but… I do know what you mean about being asked that simple question. I think everyone want to be asked how they’re doing actually, cancer or not. Thanks for your comments.

  13. As someone who has worked a lot with the media in public relations, it seems they gave you a good amount of time, considering the format. Most of the time, mainstream media channels want “soundbites,” given the fast pace of radio and TV. I think you gave out a lot of good information in a short amount of time, so bravo!

    There are exceptions of course. I just finished an interview with a radio station in Detroit that gave me a full half hour. I know a lot of Blog Talk Radio shows do the same. If you’d like to share your story and want to know whom to contact, let me know. I can connect you to some wonderful hosts who are focused on cancer and spiritual growth.

    1. Tami, Thanks for the compliment. I did have some trouble condensing down what I wanted to say, no surprise there! ha. Thanks so much for your genorous offer to help. I’ll keep that in mind for sure, especially if I ever do get that book done.

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