“How are you?”

“How are you?” This is possibly the most common greeting that we use today. In fact we probably use it so frequently, that we have almost forgotten what it actually means. It is a question, not a statement and therefore prompts an answer, which may then start a conversation! In truth, that is not what we necessarily want to do. What we are actually doing is acknowledging that person.

“I’m fine” is generally the answer which comes back, and for most of us that is probably a relief, as we will not then get involved in a heavy conversation.We all have issues of course, in most instances, not really of interest to anyone else, and if they were, possibly far too complex to be discussing in a brief encounter.

However, when I am involved in a cancer environment, the question is asked slightly differently, with the expectation of a more complex response.In my five years of personal experience, I think that I have encountered, most situations, good and bad, yet still, things arise that shock me. This was what happened a few days ago.

I was at a social function, where I saw two people who I hadn’t seen for some time. Both looked extremely well, and it was great to see them. So when I greeted them with “How are you?” I also expected the reply of “I’m fine”. However the response in both instances was far from fine! I was shocked. In both cases their cancers had returned, more aggressively. They were both having treatment. I was not prepared for those answers, as they looked so well, but I considered it a compliment, that they felt they could share their story with me.

In both instances, we talked for some time, and they appeared grateful, to be able to talk to someone who understood. Would they have responded in this way if they weren’t aware of my own situation? I don’t think so. To most people they would be saying that they were fine.That is the most convenient response for both parties.

Most people who ask me how I am, ask for genuine reasons, and have a concern for my health. But I find that I have to tailor my response, individually.My issues are very complex, and I struggle at times to understand them, so how can I expect anyone else to? Some people have a better grasp on what is going on, and others just want to touch the surface. In truth, I still want to say everything is fine, and move on! It just seems easier.

A friend of mine, Allan Smith, a fellow Lymphoma patient, wrote the following, which I feel sums up brilliantly, “How are you?”


“How are you?” everyone asks, “I’m fine”

“You are looking well” everyone says, “Yes, I’m fine”

“How’s it all going?” some people say, “Oh, I’m fine”

“You must be strong” people say, “Oh I’m fine”

The simplest of phrases that won’t let you know, all the pain and the fears that I don’t want to show.

I can’t tell you I cry when I sit on my own, and that my mind is in turmoil, I don’t want you to know.

My body’s in pain and it just won’t subside, and I feel like I have left my life far behind

If I told you these things, how could you see, your world is so far from my reality.

It’s falling to pieces inside of my head, so I tell you “I’m fine” as this puts it to bed.

You smile as I say it and you look so relaxed, so I’ll say it each time when you venture to ask, “I’m fine”


 What response do you hope for when you ask “How are you?”

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