The last thing a cancer patient needs is pity and the expression of excessive feelings of concern.

No matter how strong you are, a huge factor that impacts your state of mind is people’s reaction to your situation. During this period in your life, you want to be surrounded by positive energy and people that make you feel stronger and happier. Pity and excessive sympathy would only make one feel defeated.  Sometimes, actions speak louder than words, and so even if people don’t say, “Oh I’m sorry”, their pity look can speak out and can have a more powerful impact. Those looks give you a feeling as if the person is telling you, “Oh you are so unlucky or misfortunate.” You really don’t want to be around such negativity. When someone feels sorry for you, as if they are saying that you are in a terrible situation. Believing that, would be taking away the weapon for survival.

During this journey, I had the chance to be exposed to two different cultures, a western and a middle-eastern culture. I would like to highlight the differences, and I would like to emphasize how western’s culture views on this have helped me mentally and gave me the determination to go through this positively.

Lets start by the Middle Eastern, the few reactions I got:
A. “Oh you don’t deserve this!!!”
Me: “Really? Who does????”

B. “You have a terrible situation. This must be too difficult to handle”.
Me: “Seriously???”

What is interesting, cancer in this part of the world is unspoken of.  Due to their belief that cancer is always deadly, the topic is usually avoided and is regarded as a taboo. This secrecy about cancer makes it a more mysterious illness and hence a scary one. The reality is that there are so many different types of cancer, and different stage and grade that are determinants of the survival rate. I can’t blame them for their reaction, they simply don’t know.  But I hope by reading this blog, this would shed light and raise awareness about this topic. Having cancer does not necessarily mean it’s the end. In fact, in my case, it is the beginning of a new chapter. When facing such an event, facing it with positivity would only enhance your view on life.

In the Arab culture, the word “haram” is used A LOT. (haram: a word used to express feelings of pity). I was one of those people that used to say it. After going through this, I can slap someone in the face if I hear them say it :). You should not feel sorry for anyone. People just tend to put you down without the intention to. They need to know that their reaction and attitude plays a role in your ability to handle your situation no matter how strong and positive you are. Also, everyone from your relatives, friends, and parent’s friends like to constantly check on you. It’s nice to know that people actually care, and it actually makes you feel good and so you tend to ask, “who called?”, “What did they say?” but when they ask to talk to you … they need to understand that you are not always in the mood to talk; they should not take it personal.

Western culture (specifically NYC):
People here talk about it so openly. This openness and frankness about the illness makes it less scary and more manageable. People talk about it as if it’s just any other disease. At the center, you see happy people. People have accepted it, and continue their daily routine while getting treatment. They are willing to share their story with you and even laugh about it. When you see such positivity around you, it only becomes odd if you were so negative about it. It’s amazing how strangers don’t even look at you with pity. It’s as if they are trained on how to behave. This gives you motivation to go out there with confidence, not feeling odd or an outlier!

Few tips for the people:
1) Don’t look scared, or worried and avoid staring.
2) Don’t ask too many questions, if we want to talk and share information then we will willingly do so without being bombarded with your questions.
3) Don’t be toooooo nice, be yourself!
4) Don’t make us angry; during this phase we are very emotional so you may want to watch out and be cautious of what you say.
5) Don’t just talk about cancer, talk about other stuff. Keep us entertained.
6) Don’t stick around for too long, make it short & quick.

As for cancer patients: Do whatever makes you feel comfortable; embrace & spoil yourself. Do not worry about other people’s feelings, especially during this phase! Worry about yourself.

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