Childhood Cancer

Why I’m Tired of Being Told I’m Strong

This might be a controversial post, but I owe it to the moms I’ve met on this journey. I owe it to those of you who want to best show up for the people you care about. So today, I want to talk about why I’m tired of being told I’m strong. There are now 45 moms in my cancer support group, and it seems that we all share the same sentiment. Everyone means well. If you told me how strong I am, or that I’m brave, or that Margot is a warrior, I am truly grateful for your kindness.  Really. There is no need to apologize. 

Why I’m Tired of Being Told I’m Strong

The posts I’ve written have helped friends and family members better support loved ones after a cancer diagnosis, and I want to do everything I can to help people understand what these words mean to us.

How to support someone immediately after a cancer diagnosis

What not to say to someone going through cancer treatment

How to support someone through cancer treatment

Some might think I sound ungrateful. Others will say I’m telling people what to say and that that’s not ok. Imagine moments of crisis and being told you’re strong over and over again. Let’s not tell people who they are. I can brush it off these days, but the words are still triggering. And the goal is to save someone from having to hear it early on, when the words cut like a knife.

When we are described as strong, we hear you telling us that we are doing ok.

That we are strong enough to handle this – almost that it’s better it’s us than you. That we had it coming. You are labeling us as something we do not feel we are because we are not strong enough for this. The fact is (and yes, it’s a fact) that we do not always feel strong. Calling someone strong is not an insult, but when you assign any sort of label to someone, you’re diminishing their experience(s). You are telling someone what they are, but what happens when they don’t feel that way?

I realize that there are things I do that make me appear strong.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m doing ok, but I never feel strong enough to go through this. The fundraising, awareness, and doing everything I can for Margot? That’s not strength. It’s love. Tell me how evident my love is. Strength won’t get you through this, but love will. What is the alternative? To run? Stop advocating for her? To give up and let her not take her meds? I have no choice. Trust me when I tell you that no parent is strong enough to go through this.

I did not feel strong when I cried on the bathroom floor every single night the first few months of treatment, but people kept telling me how strong I was and how my tiny not even 30 lb. toddler was a warrior. Has anyone image searched that word? She is anything but. Is she incredible? Does she radiate joy? Yes. Warrior? No.

So what can you say instead? 

I am thinking of you.
I am here with you.
Sending you love.
I am so sorry you’re going through this. It’s so unfair.
I hate this for you.

This applies to fertility, loss, health issues, divorce, or really, any trauma.

Let’s stop telling people what they are and show up for them in a way that lets them tell us how they feel.

 

What my friends who have been through treatment with a child had to say about this post

 

It’s beautifully written and so very true. It’s like you took the words out of my mouth. It would mean 100 times more to me if someone told me they can see the love I have for my children as we navigate this journey.

 

Love it and now I’m crying. The worst is when someone tells you you’re strong and your child is a warrior in one sentence.

 

I love it. People need to hear it because so many people don’t know what to say! I don’t hate it as much as “how’s life?” but I have grown to find it annoying. Because I am definitely not strong. I am just surviving. The sending you love, thinking of you texts are way more impactful. Definitely hate “let me know if there’s anything I can do!”

 

This feels like you took the words out of my mouth. Other than someone calling her a warrior (which gives me a visceral reaction every time), being called strong is my second least favorite thing people say when trying to be supportive. It feels like it’s brushing off all of the hard work and heartache and tears that go into making it through each day. We’re making it through because we have to, not because we’re strong.

 

Ah I’m crying. We are not strong enough. This is really brave.

 

I’m not personally triggered by being called strong, but I did get a bit emotional when you mentioned how powerful it would be if the conversation shifted to love rather than strength. Even though it’s well intentioned, “You’re so strong” or “I don’t know how you do it” can feel a bit lonely, almost like someone telling you they can’t relate at the exact time you’re longing to feel seen and supported. Let me know you’re here and willing to walk beside me.

 

They wouldn’t be so quick to call us brave if they saw us crying in the closet, but that’s not what people want to hear about.

 

As always, you are able to put into words exactly what I’m thinking. This message is so important.