The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

The Things You Said, the Things I Heard

by Becky HoldenPatient, Ovarian CancerSeptember 7, 2023View more posts from Becky Holden

The things you said versus what I heard… these are words that we hear and the way they warmed.


“I am happy to drive you”

Thank you for not only offering something specific but attaching emotion to this offer. Thank you for knowing that driving is not my favorite thing; my car is not reliable and driving can be exhausting.


“You are Brave/Inspiring”

Thank you. I hear that you see me being strong as I receive news of tumor recurrence, discuss treatment plans, get myself to Chemo, and work through fatigue and nausea. I hear that you see this as something that is hard. I see myself just doing what I need to do to stay alive, which doesn’t often feel brave or inspiring. But thank you for acknowledging me and that this can be hard.


“I am sorry you are going through this”

I know you have no control over this and none of this is your fault. Thank you for acknowledging me and the challenges and fear that I am navigating. I know it is hard to know what to say in these moments but thank you for saying something. Thank you for saying something in a moment when you knew there were actually no words to take away the pain or fear. Thank you for showing up.


“Can I get you a warm blanket?”

Awww my dear nurses and Diagnostic Imaging techs—the loving gesture you extend when asking this goes beyond more than serving a practical need. It offers comfort and compassion in a setting where often we feel uncomfortable and afraid. It says: I am sorry you have cancer and I wish I could make this easier for you. A warm blanket calms my nervous system, makes me feel loved and a little less afraid, in addition to being more physically comfortable and potentially improving the ease of my veins to be accessed.


“You are the most important person in the room”

I am sure this is the line you use on everyone but I will take it.

Laying in a gown in a bed surrounded by strangers in a sterile space with bright lights vulnerably putting my faith in the robed and masked anesthesiologists and surgical team preparing to cut into me… you made me feel like a princess.

All these people for little old me? You shouldn’t have. I felt seen.

Thank you for you—for introducing yourself and acknowledging the terrified look in my eyes.


“You are a Beauty Queen”

Now this might have been drug-induced hallucination… but I am pretty certain when my surgeon saw me post-op and I was trying to mumble out questions about my incision, the parts that were removed and whether there was an ileostomy bag attached to my outside, this was their response. Reality or Hallucination, it made me smile as I slipped in and out of a morphine nap.


“How are you feeling today?”

There is a certain way this question is asked when you know they genuinely want to hear what today is like for you—knowing that each day varies. How are you feeling today—on top of the world, grateful for…, energized, scared, defeated, angry, like I got ran over by a Mac truck… Thank you for holding space for all emotions and feelings.



I know it can be hard to find the “right” words. You maybe said nothing to acknowledge my cancer, but you offered to pick up my dog for a walk, sent a beautiful care package of little treats, planted herbs at my house for me, mailed a Thinking of You card, sent a heart on an IG photo from chemo day… It all helps us feel a little less lonely as we navigate our medical care, the news of recurrence that we were not wanting to hear, the days we feel stuck in bed too exhausted to do much else, and the days we are feeling less hopeful about the outcomes.

Thank you for seeing me in the best way you knew how.


And my favorite so far…


“Thank you for sharing that with me”

The first time this was a response to me disclosing my cancer diagnosis I was taken aback by the impact it had. What???? I am not a burden, I am not dumping my life crap on you, you aren’t going to tell me about your Aunt’s boyfriend’s sister who died from cancer 20 years ago?!? You are just going to acknowledge that I shared something scary for me???

Thank you for acknowledging the vulnerability it takes to share your story and thank you for acknowledging that even just to say out loud “I have cancer” is difficult.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for showing up. Your words matter to me and were perfect from you to me.

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