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    Gertrude is the name we decided to call my cancerous breast hence the title of this blog. Although I had to keep my breast through chemo and radiation due to the nature of IBC - once it 'blew up' it no longer looked like my breast and I couldn't wait to get rid of it. Calling it Gertrude was a way of seperating it from myself. This main page is where I write about the general goings on that relate to Gertrude, there is another page that are more a diary of treatments etc This blog is a public blog so although I am being very honest about my battle with Gertrude I have "changed names to protect the innocent" - because everyone can see it if you write comments on the blog pages please use the same abbreviations for other family member or friends that I do. Please feel free to ask questions if you want clarification because then other people who might have been wondering the same thing can read your question and our answers.
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    OH- Other Half (Hubby), OD- Oldest Daughter, MD- Middle Daugher, YD- Youngest Daughter, SB- soulja boi MD's fiance in the army (now ex fiance), OD's R OD's partner, BS- Breast surgeon whose initials just happen to be BS as well, BC- our GP (family doctor), Dr H- my medical oncologist, all other friends family etc will be referred to as initials etc
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    No Princess Alone button

Empathy vs Sympathy

Subtitle: What I need from my friends and other people

Sub-sub-title: or am I just a stroppy independent b***h?

This post has come about due to discussions I have had with various friends and aquaintances.  As I’ve said in previous posts, I dont like pity or sympathy and think true empathy of my situation only comes from tuning in to how I feel and how I want people to react to me.  I found this quote which sums it up for me

We recognize others as empathic when we feel that they have accurately acted on or somehow acknowledged in stated or unstated fashion our values or motivations, our knowledge, and our skills or competence, but especially as they appear to recognize the significance of our actions in a manner that we can tolerate their being recognized – Wynn Schwartz:

 I need people to recognise that I will be talking a lot to my closer friends and family about my hopes and fears.  I am still getting my head around the whole ‘metastatic cancer’ scenario and what it means for me and I will talk to help me process this.  It does not mean I need anyone to try and jump in and fix it.  Just let me talk and process. 

Maybe I’m selfish but I can’t handle well meaning hands on my arms saying ‘”how are you?” in ‘that’ concerned tone of voice.  I also dont know how to respond to “but  you are looking great” – that one I think is getting to OH as well.  We bumped into a workmate of his who said it and OH’s reply was “yeah, apart from the tumour growing inside her”

My emotions are going all over the place sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes nervous and sometimes annoyed.  I have less patience with percieved ineptitude, or people who aren’t being sincere or people who express overt pity and sympathy.  If they were truly empathetic they would pick up that I really hate that.  I am getting angry easier.  I know this will calm down to a certain extent once I’ve got my head round the situation more, but I can’t guarantee not to bite someone’s head off in the meantime.

I don’t need people to tell me to go try alternative therapies instead of starting on this next chemo regime, which a stranger did the other day. 

 I need my friends and family to just be my friends and family, allowing for my mood swings and wanting to spend time with me.  I want to just have fun spending time with people and not make it all cancer, all the time. 

Most of my class mates at Uni have picked up on the fact that my health has got worse and most of them are judging correctly how I want them to react.  That I need Uni to be a ‘normal’ place for me.  Somewhere I am not a cancer patient.

If I continue down this metastatic track there will come a time when the family and myself may need a lot more ‘hands on’ help but we dont need that right now.  Its part of me needing to feel as independant as possible. 

On the whole people think I am a fairly positive person and that is how I think of myself too.  With metastatic cancer you have a choice – either carry on living your life to the best of your ability around the strictures that treatment may put on you, or curl up in  a corner and wait to die.  I know which one Im choosing.

Thanks to all my family and friends who understand me.  I’ll try not to be too much of a stroppy b***h


Leave a comment


  1. Marie

     /  April 13, 2011

    Hi Jenny I do not always make comments but I have followed your progress since you first told me about ‘Gertrude’
    You have come a long way in so many different aspects
    your friend from across the ‘pond’

  2. Good writing dear! I get it.

    At the beginning of my diagnosis, I was obsessed with death, and sure it was coming soon. I drove most of my social circle away with my constant obsession. Now, if they don’t get me, I don’t care.

    I’m glad your friends at Uni seem to get it. Good to have a place like that.

  3. I wanted to let you know that I read and understand – not the cancer situation – the health and empathy vs. sympathy (pity) situation.

    I know a lot of people don’t know what to say or how to react so they head straight to the cliche comments or actions or facial expressions. It makes me cringe inside and yet I too can empathize with them on the same level because I have been there as well.

    Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve thinned out my core group of friends and family and I don’t have to deal with as much pity or silent moments of “poor you” looks/hugs.

    I look forward to reading more from you and heading into your archives a bit. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Diane Dotchin

     /  April 13, 2011

    A brilliant, honest, expression of real feelings. Thanks for sharing Jenny.
    Love Diane

  5. Hetty Koekoek

     /  April 13, 2011

    You explain very well how you feel about what people say. I sometimes find it hard to know what is the right thing to say in difficult situations. Would it be better to say nothing at all in that case? That would be the easy way for me of course. And maybe for you too. But I would be worried because you might think that I don’t care. And I do care. And I think everybody who said something – whether you liked the way they said it or not- does care.
    If you don’t want everybody to comment, and to know about how you are, than you have to be careful where you publish your news as well.
    I hope you can appreciate this feedback. If not, then I am happy if you ignore it.
    I am glad to hear you are enjoying your study!

    • I am grateful for your feedback as it allows me to clarify a few things.
      Most people including yourself have responded to my recent news in a way I can understand and deal with and I am grateful for the support shown to me. There is only a few people who are doing it wrong, (for me anyway) – expressing overtly overly sympathetic attitudes and doing what I call fussing over me. I wrote the blog post more as a clarification of conversations I had had with some people between the difference between empathy and sympathy and to be a little more honest about the fact that emotionally I am all over the place at the moment while I come to terms with the news that my cancer is now metastatic and starting this next round of treatment. Which is part of the reason I find some people’s reactions a little overwhelming when I am trying to keep a tight lid on my own emotions.
      Part of me needs my day-to-day life being as normal as possible which means I will act fine when I am not.
      As an introvert I find it easier to write all this on my blog than tell people face to face, and I can deal with people’s concerns better when they write comments. And that is one thing I have told a lot of people – don’t keep asking how I am, read my blog because I am going to be more honest on there than I will be to your face – and that is why I link to my facebook so that I dont need to write facebook status updates telling people everything.
      Because of YD, as you know, I have always been a helper, not a helpee and I struggle to let people in that way.
      Thanks again for your feedback

  6. Boy do I hear you! I do understand people don’t know what to say but i’m so with you on the “but you look great” comment. I think people expect us to look like hell 🙂
    I always want to say “do you mean good for a cancer patient? or you’re just taken back by how gorgeous I am?” Sadly I already know the answer to that and it’s not the 2nd one.
    Oh and then there’s “the look” which goes along with the “how ARE you?” question. I think I don’t mind the question so much as the look. I think it’s a combo of “oh dear God you have cancer” combined with “thank goodness it’s not me”.
    And now that I’ve practically written a whole post in your comment section, how about I just say “I understand and I’m sorry you’re having to face this again!”. (((Hugs!)))


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