Getting Over ‘It’

Posted on: February 25th, 2011 by

“You just have to get over it.”

“You need to get beyond this thing.”

“You should move on.”

These are just some of the well-meaning comments that well-meaning people have told me over the years.

“It” and “thing” refer to cancer. 

The individuals who told me these things had never been diagnosed with cancer. Of course not. Somehow these people want to view life as a series of children’s chalk drawings, as if to say people who’ve experienced cancer ought to view life as a bright rainbow of colors — and it’ll all be A-OK.

Well, children’s chalk drawings are fragile. Just ask any rainy day.

Truth is, anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer will never “get over ‘it.'” Truth is, once a person is diagnosed, he or she is never the same physically and psychologically. Truth is, telling people affected by cancer to get over it is harmful to our health and psyches.

Don’t get me wrong: we appreciate and savor life and all that jazz, but we are forever changed by a cancer diagnosis.

I remember the day my surgeon told me I probably had breast cancer. I was lying on the biopsy table and literally felt as if I were sinking into the ground.  I was in disbelief, and as he conducted his biopsy, I kept telling him I didn’t want it to be cancer. I now realize, that at the time, I was begging him to tell me it wasn’t so.

Two days later, he told me it was so.

I cannot list enough adjectives to describe what goes through a person’s mind when diagnosed with cancer: horror, disbelief, numbness, terror (like crap-in-your-pants terror), and loss of control, just to name a few. I will discuss loss of control — an entire issue unto itself — in a future posting.

For the rest of our lives, we who have been diagnosed with cancer wonder what the rest of our lives will look like. Doctors recommend treatment protocols, without revealing their long-term damage to the body. Not exactly informed consent. Limited treatment options are available to the patient. Again, not informed consent. Poisons enter the cancer patient’s body, perhaps taking a great toll on his or her long-term health. The patient often wonders if the cancer is ever really gone or whether his/her cancer will be the very thing that kills him/her.

Telling us to “get over it” redefines our reality in a harmful way: by denying the ugliness of cancer. Most people who tell us to move on don’t realize how they are affecting us. And perhaps we tell those in our lives that living a quality life is still possible, but getting over cancer is not. 

If you wish to leave a comment about your own experience, please feel free to do so. I would love to hear your perspectives on this topic.


10 Responses to Getting Over ‘It’

  1. had this to say about that:

    What a great entry. At times, just a little over a year from my diagnosis, I tell myself to “get over it.” Thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to go there. I can’t pretend that I never had breast cancer. Especially with the lymphedema and the missing breasts and the numb feeling where the lymphnodes were removed. Let’s not leave out the fact that my hair, over 7 months post-chemo, is looking like I might not be getting it all back.

  2. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Thank you for your kind words. It is definitely OK not to pressure yourself to get over it. I know exactly what you mean: I have had lymphedema, numbness in many areas of my body, plus scars everywhere. It’s difficult not to be reminded about the cancer when we have all these bodily things going awry. I hope you do get all your hair back. Maybe it needs more time.

    Just don’t be hard on yourself. You’ve been through a lot. Thank you for reading my posting.

  3. Knock knock - it's cancer! had this to say about that:

    So true. I have just been told that my treatment, which will be chemo starting with my first session on March 9th, will be 4 cycles “only”.

    The next thing I heard from someone was “That’s not too bad, when are you going back to work?” As if magically and immediately after it was over, all would be back to normal.

    Well it’s not.

  4. nancyspoint had this to say about that:

    Beth, I totally agree, one does not “get over” cancer, ever. It’s that simple. Like you said, once diagnosed, we do try to move on and live full and productive lives, but cancer “is always there.” I find even some people closest to me do not entirely understand this, and that’s OK. I accept that. I cannot and maybe should not expect others to necessarily understand this, I’m not sure it’s even possible for them to. This is why I feel so connected to my support group of other survivors. So my advice here is to find different levels of support from different people. No one person can fulfill all your needs, but that’s true with anything. Great post, Beth!

  5. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Dear Knock Knock It’s Cancer:

    It’s ridiculous that some people just trivialize your experience, as if it’s no biggie. Even after chemo, it takes awhile to recover physically and spiritually.

    Good luck with the chemo; I know cancer is a long, never-ending road.

    Coincidentally, I started my chemo in March, too.

  6. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


    Thank you for thoughtful, insightful comment. Nobody really understands how cancer affects us except those of us immersed in the cancer world. I just wish more people would be sensitive enough not to make light of our experiences, which are often filled with fear and anguish.

    Many people do try to understand, but I think they fall short.

  7. Laura had this to say about that:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.

    While so many are just trying to be helpful, it is, as you said, impossible to ‘get over it’. This is on of those statements that those who do no know what to say, employ to communicate with us, they the afflicted (‘if you need anything, just let me know!’ eyeroll).

    Cancer grew in our bodies, was literally part of us, no matter how unwelcome, for sometime and THAT invasion is not something that can be gotten over. The horrors we see are part of us. Would one tell a mother who lost a child to ‘get over it’? NO, that would be abhorrent, but some of us, especially young cancer patients like myself, feel as though our childhood (or twenties as it were) died along with our rogue cells.

    Empathy can be hard to come, fear seems so much easier, no?


  8. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Hi Laura,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment on my post. I think you are right: fear is easier than empathy. I never quite thought of this our way.

    I know what you mean about the cancer invading our bodies. I feel that my body, which I always thought I could count on because pre-cancer diagnosis life was very healthy, betrayed me. And that betrayal is difficult to cope with.

    I appreciate your comment on my post. Thank you for reading it.

  9. Being Sarah had this to say about that:

    Thank you for this post Beth and the interesting comments. I am both saddened and angered when I hear some of the insensitive things that people say to cancer patients. It’s happened to me too… and I’ve come to accept that it’s fear, just as Laura says. People are frightened. They don’t want to see or hear the reality, pain and devastation that cancer brings. For me that’s why it’s been so important to find my ‘friends’ in this community because there’s a level of understanding that I rarely find elsewhere. Thank you.

  10. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Hi Sarah,

    You are welcome! Yes, it’s easy to get angered about these comments; often they are insensitive, but I think you make a really good point here, and that is that people are afraid of the unknown, and our society is terrified, in particular, of the “C” word.

    I also find comfort and understanding in this blogging community!

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