How Are You?

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gail.jpgWhat do you say when someone asks you how you're doing? What's the correct way to respond? Do they really want to know or is this just a rhetorical question?

Most of us do this all the time. We pass colleagues in the hallway, we run into friends at the store, we see acquaintances at a meeting. It's just natural. We say, "How are you?"

But since I've been in treatment for cancer, I'm never quite sure how I should respond to this question. Do they really want to know or is this just polite chit chat?

Do they want me to tell them how I'm truly feeling -- that my latest medicine makes my legs hurt, that my feet ache and that I'm so very tired? Are they actually interested in the fact that my lips are chapped and that my skin feels stretched across my face?

Here's something to think about. Do they even know that I've been in treatment for brain cancer for almost two years? I never know the answer to that one. And when I'm talking to someone who I haven't seen for a long while, I wonder if they even know what happened to me. Should I tell them or just let it go?

Sometimes I find myself in the middle of telling this very old story that I'm not certain I've already told, or if an old friend already heard it through the grapevine. But, once I get going, I feel obliged to finish the tale.

People are kind, friends are shocked if they didn't already know about my brain cancer, but I'm always left feeling awkward. Did I say too much? Did they really want to know how I'm feeling today or were they just making conversation?

I haven't come to a conclusion about my dilemma. Occasionally, I let it go. Often, I say more than I should. What do you think? Do you really want to know or are you just being nice?

But just so you know, I am two years out from my diagnosis and surgery. What I should say is that I'm a survivor -- a very grateful survivor.


Many people in the cancer free world have no idea what living with and surviving cancer treatment entail. I am the mother of a teenage patient who has been in treatment since 2008. Her friends and family didn’t get it. Her school didn’t get it.
In retrospect I say throw the politeness in the toilet. Tell them how you really feel…like you’ve been run over by a truck every day since diagnosis! Although you are grateful to have survived you are now living with the painful and unknown long term side effects and these side effects “suck!”
I think its time to educate our society!

I hate secrets! I hate not knowing because then I have no clue how to help, how to pray for someone I really love. I want you here for a long, long time!
I want to know. I just don't know when is a good time to ask. Give me an opening and and you can bend my ear for as long and as often as you want. Sisters don't just share the good times. We're there for all the peaks and all the valleys.

Great comments about this post shared on

Angel P.
I wonder the same thing. My son has a tumor in his brain & going thru chemo. People ask me how I'm doing? Do they really want to know? So I just say I'm doing ok.

Donna E.
I respond that I am doing great which is true- mentally and physically. I m 5 yrs in remission n give all praises to God for healing me! Cancer does not have me.

Shameka G.
Self my response is always the same ok...and then some people have the nerve to tell me that I am being pessimistic. I understand that they are full of concern, but I feel that if they do not really want to know then they shouldn't ask me.

Alice F.
Very good question. I just went with my "gut feelings about the person" as to how I answered.

Dana E.
Amen to that Shameka--if people really cared about the truth, they would pray with you and lift you up not judge what they clearly do not understand. I will pray with you and for you as a sister in Christ ♥

Jim H.
It depends on who's asking.
When close friends asked me how I was doing during chemo, I'd tell them in as much detail as I thought that particular friend could handle.
When people at work or church asked, I'd usually tell them how I was doing... in the most optimistic terms I could manage. Often, I tried to make jokes to lighten the mood. My favorite response was straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail; "I'm not dead yet!"

Almost four years later, I'm still not dead yet!

Margo H.
Thanks for sharing, its good reminder ..y'all are in my prayers ..

Gary P.
Before Sunday I would say.. " Compared to what?..." Now I'll just say... "...Better than Bin Laden...!..."

Nini L.
It´s just so difficulty to answer to this! I´m used to"work" and be with this kind of persons, who have or had cancer. For me, but it´s just what I think (May be not the better way of acting) I always ask and I want they tell me the true!... I tell people to say what they really are feeling! If they want to cry, so they need to cry! If the feel bad and want to speak about it, they need to do it! It´s just the better way to show exactly their feelings and share it with people who cares about them. I don´t cry with them, but I´m there to say: Ok! You are just feeling bad (or not) and I´m here to know the better way to help you to carry on fighting. But just let be "out of you"your feelings. Just don´t keep it inside alone. Well, it´s just my way of trying to really be with them.See More

Shameka G.
Self @ Dana Thank you very much @ Gary, you are funny lol

Joe R.
I am 3 years out from esophageal cancer surgery. People are sincerely kind and are concerned. Recently in a large group someone asked, "Is Joe still with us". I immediately spoke up with a big smile and laugh, " By the grace of God and those wonderful doctors and nurses at MD Anderson and with the support of good friends and family, I am still here." As my MDA's oncologist says, "Enjoy everyday to the fullest."

My wife just passed away after battling stage 4 colon cancer. She was a patient at MDACC fo most of that time. Without MDACC she probably would have died 2-3 years ago. I always try to answer truthfully. If they do not want to know they should not ask. We need to have more people understand what this disease (cancer) is really like so more will support the fight. It is not pleasant, but it is very real to those of us touched closely by it. BTW I am aalo a patient at MDACC for both prostate and bladder. Fortunately I was diagnosed quite early fo both.

A few more really good comments that came in from our Facebook page

Patti L.
That's one thing I noticed right away when we were at MD Anderson the first day - not a bunch of 'how are you?'s as trivial conversation... they asked the questions that mattered to really know how you are... i really appreciated that :)
Wednesday at 7:14pm

Beth C.
Dear Gail, your thoughts and experiences give us all hope and more understanding of the individual journey cancer brings. Thank you for sharing your journey and thank MD Anderson from the bottom of my heart.
Wednesday at 9:50pm

I am the (best) friend in the photo hugging Gail, and she can tell me how she really feels any time and all the time.

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