Life Style

Perspective | Carolyn Hax: Friends pressure cancer survivor to push past physical limits


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Dear Carolyn: Please help. I am a cancer survivor and am very lucky to look healthy, but … I am now a very high-maintenance person. The surgery saved my life but left me with a permanent medical issue that needs constant attention. When I go anywhere, and I do mean anywhere, I have to plan out several bathroom stops. I have to drink copious amounts of water during the day and whenever I eat. There are restaurants — some of my favorites — where I can’t eat anymore. I have to be careful not to get overheated or overtired. I have limited amounts of energy and sometimes have to cancel in the middle of an outing.

My spouse is a saint and none of this bothers them, but it bothers me. Friends just don’t get it, and I don’t want to “educate” them about the whys of my condition; it’s private.

In a spirit of inclusion, they pressure me to go hiking, cycling, attend concerts, go to the country fair, etc. It’s physically impossible for me to do these things, but the pressure is relentless. “Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t manage that,” is never an accepted answer. I’ve offered limited explanations, but friends come back with, “You look so healthy. Let’s try it.” I love these people, and offer to have them over, or to go for a small walk that I can manage, etc. It’s never enough.

It’s starting to make me feel like I’m a malingerer. Is there any solution here short of my having to completely explain my condition?

— Cancer-Free but Limited

Cancer-Free but Limited: I am here, with bells on and my party hat and a tray of snacks, for the idea that our bodies and medical needs are private and no one gets to decide for us what anyone else knows. Lock down as much info as you want for as long as you want.

I am also here to stand up for anyone who is under pressure from friends who can’t or won’t let a matter drop. Your people sound exhausting. I’m sorry.

But: When we’re the ones suffering from our own information lockdowns … you kind of lose me there. (I’ll leave the snack tray.)

You don’t have to “educate” anyone, not in any kind of depth. But the main beneficiary at this point of a simple rundown, “Here’s what I can and can’t do,” would be you. Wouldn’t it? So you could have one annoying and unwanted conversation instead of an endless procession of them into every foreseeable future?

I understand “simple” is in the eye of the beholder, so let’s define it as a synonym of “straightforward” for our purposes. Tell them your new reality means X, Y and Z — no matter how flat-out fabulous you look on the outside.

Tell only a few key friends, if that makes it easier.

Tell these key friends one at a time, if that makes it easier.

Tell them in writing or on the phone, if that makes it easier.

Easier, that is, for you. Because that is the whole point of this exercise. Because your current approach isn’t working.

I am not suggesting you tell any of your friends anything for their benefits (though I imagine they’ll appreciate clarity), or that you owe them anything. This is strictly about what you owe yourself — and at least from here, it appears you owe yourself a pragmatic rethink of your strategy to keep your restrictions to yourself.


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