If I had a buck for every time I’ve typed that out in the process of answering a question on a forum – don’t worry, there’s no such thing as a dumb question…
But on those same forums, threads crop up regularly with titles like “Dumb things people say,” and “Stupid questions people ask cancer patients.” And all the patients bemoan the dumb, stupid and insensitive things non-patients say to them.
Reading all of those threads, I wonder why cancer patients hold themselves exempt from the “dumb/insensitive question” test, and get insulted if anyone challenges the repeat questioner or the person who refuses to try to think things out for himself. Did cancer suddenly make us all smarter and more considerate than the rest of the world? I’m not sure that’s a safe generalization – I’ve had my share of chemo brain, during which I’ve done (and said) my share of dumb things.
Today, as I read a thread on a forum where one poster reassured another that there was no such thing as a dumb question, I wondered again – how is it that cancer patients are exempt from the dumb/insensitive question classification when we’re so quick to apply it to others who don’t have cancer?
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has made a career out of posing situations and then concluding, from that situation, that “you might be a redneck.” In Foxworthy’s routine, if “you own a house that is mobile and 5 cars that aren’t,” or “your coffee table used to be a cable spool,” or “your mother has ‘ammo’ on her Christmas list,” then you might be a redneck.
So in case you’re one of those cancer patients who desperately needs some help with objective filtering when asking questions on forums:
If you didn’t bother to read the forum’s current topic list to see if your question is already being discussed, it might be a dumb question.
If you didn’t bother to use the search function for your subject before posting, then it might be a dumb question.
If a discussion has been active for a few days, with links to sites with more information, and you didn’t read any of the links or information before making your post, it might be a dumb question.
If you’re one of those patients who is still using the excuses “not everyone can know everything” or “I’m new and I’m trying to learn” and it’s been at least six months since you or your loved one has been diagnosed, it might be a dumb question.
If someone answers your post with “what do you think?” or “what does your doctor say?” then it’s either a dumb question, or it’s inappropriate to expect people on the internet to be able to answer it.
If the question involves wondering whether the current symptoms are worth a trip to the ER or a call to the onc’s office, it’s a dumb question with a capital “D”! Trust me, on that one, the right answer is always “go to the ER” or “call the onc!”
On the sensitivity scale, forum etiquette is sometimes hard to grasp. But on a practical level:
If you ask every single person with a diagnosis similar to you or your loved one every intimate detail of their dx and treatment, no matter what the actual subject of the thread, you might be insensitive.
If you go to multiple forums and get the same advice in each place, but ignore it, you might be insensitive.
If you’ve been around a cancer support forum for more than a couple months, and witnessed the passing of several stage IV participants, but still ask whether stage IV patients are considered cured after five years just like stage I-II-III patients, you might be insensitive.
If you ask the same question over and over for months with only slight variations, hoping someone will give you a different answer, you might be insensitive.
If you turn every conversation to the single question on your own agenda, repeatedly, you might be insensitive.
If you are constantly insisting that doctors gave up on you, that big pharma and doctors are only in it for the money, and that the “machine” of medicine is not about trying to cure disease, you might be insensitive.
If you post age-ist comments like having cancer in your 20s or 30s is just so much more unfair or cruel or tragic than getting cancer when you are older than whatever age you are, you might be insensitive.
If you make a dozen posts within a few days asking all of your questions without first checking to see if they’ve been asked before, you might be insensitive. You’re also probably scared and new – but that doesn’t excuse being high-maintenance or sucking all the air out of the room by trying to make everyone focus on your needs and questions all the time.
We are cancer patients (or caregivers) and we are scared and we are just as likely (maybe more so) in that condition to be rude and to ask dumb, insensitive questions. Newbies get a pass on forums as long as they’re still in the honeymoon newbie phase – that first month or two of posting when more experienced posters are willing to bend over backwards to help you understand what is happening and how to cope.
But that honeymoon newbie phase – that’s your learning curve. You’ve only got the one shot. You need to actually learn, absorb some of the things people are counseling you, start to think independently, stop expecting people to just keep handing you answers.
We don’t get a perpetual free pass to be dumb or insensitive, high-maintenance or the kinds of people who suck the air out of a room just because we have cancer. There are dumb and insensitive questions asked on cancer support forums, and too often, it’s a cancer patient asking them.
It’s time we all grew up and took responsibility for those times when even we behave badly.