I’m Fine

…Two words I’d be happy to never have to utter again.

This is a topic a lot of people have written about and I heard of after first getting diagnosed with cancer. I laughed at it, but now that I am in the thick of things, I truly understand it. So I’ve decided to throw my own two cents in. I don’t think it could hurt to remind people on the outside for the gazillionth time that I am actually quite fine.

Since first being diagnosed with lymphoma, I’d say 30% of the words that come out of my mouth have been used responding to the question “How are you?” Everyone wants to know. I know it comes from a place of concern and caring, but I would like to point out that answering this question is exhausting and frustrating for a sick person. And who wants to exhaust a sick person?

I am not sure what kind of response people expect from such a loaded question. For one thing, I am 25 years old and getting treated for cancer. That really sucks. Should I say I woke up feeling like I’d been put through a car crusher? Should I say I haven’t been to a bar in 6 months and I could really go for a drink? Should I say I’m scared I won’t be able to run again? Or that I thought a lot about death today?

Overall though, despite everything, I AM FINE. You’ve heard it before, and I will tell you again, human beings have an amazing ability to deal with things. I’ve heard people say they could never go through something like this, but yes, yes you could. Because when your only choice is to live through it or die, you suck it up and choose the former.

That is why I am honest to goodness just fine. Because I wake up every day, yes feeling like crap, but still happy to be alive. You don’t want to hear about my aches and pains or how many times I thought I was going to barf. I woke up and still had a life to live. It’s not “great” because I’m still not happy about this cancer thing, but overall it’s a solid fine. There are still a lot of enjoyable things in my days as well.

I have complained about this enough that my friends and family have nicely stopped asking me so much. I tell them that no news is good news, and that if I’m not outwardly complaining or talking about my health, then assume nothing has changed.

It’s not answering the same question over and over that irritates me. It’s that the question itself is a constant reminder that I’m sick and in this situation. It’s like one of my other most hated questions – “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?” I hate that because it forces me to focus on my current pain and then try to attach a measure to something I always considered to be immeasurable.

Sometimes a simple “How are you feeling?” can be a harsh reminder that I am not feeling well, and force me to trivialize the severe situation I’ve found myself in.

So in other words, “I’m fine” is my way of brushing the whole thing off.

Instead I much rather talk about things like current events, movies, music, food, and cute things my dog did today. So how about we finish this off with some food?

Butternut Squash Sauce

The photos of this sauce are a little misleading, but I will get to that. What is Squash Sauce you ask? A creamy, garlicky pasta sauce made with pureed butternut squash. Created because my food restrictions were getting me down, I’m still craving homestyle foods, and I wanted a way to sneak more veggies in.


1 large butternut squash

1 head of garlic

2 tbsp butter

1 onion

1 cup 10% cream (milk works too, but I haven’t tried it with non-dairy)

2 tbsp flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg


Pre-heat oven to 425F

Slice the tip of the head of garlic off like you would slice the end of an onion off. Wrap in tinfoil with a little oil.

Wash, peel, and cube the butternut squash, spread on baking sheet with wrapped garlic and put in oven for about 20-25 minutes or until browned.

While squash and garlic are roasting, chop onion. Heat a medium sized pot to low-medium heat, melt butter, and slowly cook onion until soft (about 15 minutes).

Add flour, spices, and cream to pot and whisk non-stop (making sure to scrape the bottom with whisk) for about 10 minutes or until thick like a gravy.

Once everything is ready, put it in a blender (including ALL of the garlic, peeled of course) and puree. Makes about 2-3 cups of sauce.

Now I can tell you I cheated taking the pictures. I always make my food for dinner when there’s no sunlight, so I photograph the leftovers the next day. And here you can totally tell! It was much creamier and dreamier the night of serving, although did still hold up well the next day. The texture just changes a bit in the microwave, much like mac n’ cheese or alfredo.

I served mine with egg noodles, salmon, and a whack of veggies, but the butternut squash sauce got lost a little. I would recommend tossing it with fettuccine or fusilli, then serving it as a side to something like chicken or tofu with steamed veggies. That way the flavours really get to shine. I can’t wait to make this again with maybe homemade pasta!

Now I am into the “good” two weeks of my chemo cycle where I am free of any additional poisons for a while. My body is getting to recover and I sometimes get a small glimpse of what it’s like to be my old self again. So yup, in case you were wondering, I am totally FINE.

Posted on December 1, 2011, in Cancer, Recipes and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 59 Comments.

  1. That pasta looks amazing (and so creamy!) As always – I find your perspective on things…well…KICK ASS. ;) it definitely is a question of concern and care – but people don’t often think about the receiving end of it, so i’m really glad you posted about it. I ALWAYS WANT to know what cute things Buster did (but I do – because I stalk you on Instagram!) Keep on kicking ass sister. :)

  2. Another tough and brave post, Susan. It is indeed very frustrating to be asked that question during a crisis (be it health or personal), even if it demonstrates concern. I think that you manage to show your readers with each day how fine you are, and how strong.

  3. I can related to likely being someone who would ask (out of concern)… but thank you for your post pointing out that this is not a good question.

    Now, if anyone asks just respond “Hmm, what do YOU think (of how I am)?” ;-)

    • Haha, ohno, that may make people say “Well you LOOK good!” which is a whole other post in itself… Never tell a sick person they look good! (or bad! obviously)

      • Uh oh…I think I’ve said that to you. What should I say?

        • Oh I wouldn’t worry about a comment on a picture or something. More like if you were to see me and say something like “Oh well, at least you look good!” Because really, what I look like doesn’t please me enough to make me feel better about this cancer thing, and secondly, I know I look like crap so it sounds like a lie. I’m going to write a whole post about it. In general, I would just stay away from commenting on someone’s appearance in person. I don’t find it as bad when people comment online though. Maybe because there’s no underlying tones to it.

  4. Oh man that look simply amazing :)

    Just keep your head up and continue to push through it. You are getting stronger and stronger everyday :)

  5. This is an absolutely fantastic post! Every single word is true. The concern behind the words “how are you” is appreciated, but how do you explain that you are fine, but not really fine at the same time? It’s a much more complicated (and lengthy) answer than most people want to hear and not something I want to keep repeating. Perfectly written, Susan!

  6. I can relate to the “I’m fine” statement going on and on and on for months, though not in a medical way. Do people really want to know the truth when they ask? Sometimes, I consider just saying it.

    • Sometimes I think people really do want to know the truth, which bugs me more, because why should I open up to them? It’s to satisfy their own curiosity and I’m usually too stubborn to give in to it. But really though, all things considered, I’m fine. It’s the boring truth.

  7. Extremely insightful post. Thank you for writing about this because I think it’s something a lot of people wouldn’t realize that could really unintentionally get someone down. I also really love the look of that butternut squash sauce. It sounds tasty and creamy and way healthier than alfredo.


  8. Terrific post today & I can’t wait to make this recipe!

  9. I’m really glad you posted this. You’re right – it’s hard being on the “other” side of a friendship with someone who is sick (or grieving, for that matter) – it’s hard to know what the “right” thing to say really is. But to your point, sometimes it’s better to just continue on with that friendship without trying to dig into the details of that illness, how you’re feeling, etc. – the no news is good news answer is a perfect way to get your friends to stop asking you everytime they see you, how you’re feeling.

    I’m glad you’re into the post-chemo phase where things are starting to taste halfway decent again, that’s always a good thing, right?

    • Yes, and I understand that being the “healthy” one in a friendship is hard, so hopefully these posts help other people understand how to be better friends in similar situations! Definitely not meant to point fingers and say “You suck if you do this” haha. For me, the best part of friendships right now is that they are a lovely escape from my illness.

      • i totally agree and thanks for sharing this susan. We all think that caring means constantly asking about feelings, health, etc. when sometimes it just means to act like everything is already fine and laugh, eat, play, etc. I forget that! Just be US!!

  10. I’m sure that I have done this to people mainly because I am supremely awkward and never know the right thing to say. If it helps I really don’t mind hearing about my friend’s issues because it gives me a better picture of what they are going through and what I can do to help. Of course I’d hate to exhaust them by forcing them to relate their status all the time! It sucks to explain things over and over. I have a milder form of that issue dealing with celiac. People always want to know why I’m not eating this or that and why. I guess kind of like the people that tell you they could never deal with cancer I get people who tell me they would rather die than give up bread and pasta. How ridiculous and dramatic! It always makes me roll my eyes!

    • Yup, I’d say talking about the celiac thing over and over would definitely be similar! I am inherently awkward at small talk too, which makes the “How are you feeling?” question even worse. I’m not very good at breezing my way through it, just like the person on the other end doesn’t really know what else to say!

  11. Reading your posts on this is so eye opening to me because I am admittedly ignorant on how I would deal with this if it were me and how I would deal with this if it were my family member or friend going through it. Sensitivity goes a long way, and asking the question you know the answer to (sort of) – how do you feel – is just a reminder of the situation itself, it’s not really the best way to support your friend or family member going through this. What is, is being ourselves and just being a friend or sister or whatever the relationship is, as you normally would. great post. and that food looks SO good (love the admission about picture taking hehe!)

    • Yes!! A lot of the time when I run into people out and about and they ask me how I’m feeling I’ll say “Well, I’m out of bed today, so obviously good.” Maybe a touch snarky, but I can’t help myself ;) Thing is, if anything big happened like a new cancer or something, chances are they’d already know about it thanks to Facebook, e-mail, or through the grapevine. That’s the only kind of news about my health I’d deem necessary to make a conversation about.

  12. Glad you are so open with your posts..my son passed away when he was four months old. People didn’t know what to say to me either. Obviously, I was not fine and I wasn’t going to be fine…Thanks for being honest. On another note, no pictures of Buster today? I hate to tell you, but I seriously am stalking your dog = )

    • Hahaha, I’m trying my hardest not to turn this into a dog blog, as much as Buster would like it to ;) And yes, a lot of it stems from people just not knowing what to say. But there’s nothing wrong with a simple, “I’m sorry you’re going through with this” to acknowledge the elephant in the room, then move on to something that’s easier for both parties to talk about.

  13. YES!!! AMEN!! I think what I hate most is when you say “I’m fine” and they look at you like they don’t believe you. The awkward “oh okay, that’s good…” that follows.

    People have such a mindset of catastrophe regarding cancer that it’s absolutely inconceivable that a cancer patient could actually be doing well or coping well. I keep trying to explain to people that being able to cope with this situation doesn’t make me an “oh-my-gosh-you’re-amazing” person, it’s just a choice.

    • Yesyesyes! 50% of the time when I say “I’m fine,” people will say “No really, how ARE you?” Like they want the dirt on it or something. But really, I don’t spend my days sitting at home pontificating my current situation and wallowing in my imminent doom. If anything, I just see cancer as a major inconvenience, in my brain it’s business as usual.

  14. That’s a tough one for me to understand. I ask all my friends and family “how are you?” Sick or not I truly want to know how your day is going. I am blown away that it is offensive to someone that I care enough to ask. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to change that. What is something better to ask?

    • I think there’s a difference between asking a person what they’ve been up to, and asking a sick person how their disease makes them feel, one that is pretty easy to distinguish (I think). Also, it’s acceptable to have a friend you haven’t seen in a while to ask you you’re feeling, another thing to have your mother call you three times a day with the same question! I really do try to be understanding about it, but when there are SO many things beating away at my patience because of my health, I find these days I just don’t always have the patience to be polite with people. Maybe just don’t make it the first thing you ask about. That way a level of comfort has already been established before it gets thrown out there.

  15. 1. good advice to ppl who don’t know what to say/do in situations like this
    2. don’t you hate how early it’s getting dark! no fun at all!
    3. it looks delicious!!! totally need to make some :)

  16. This sauce looks really, really delicious. And I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with the stress of other people. I feel like when someone hasn’t dealt with sickness, they freeze and don’t know how to act. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a neurological disease and since then, I rarely tell people, because they just don’t know what to say. So, I’m sorry you’re going through this, and I hope that you get healthy soon! Thank you for being honest about your experience.

  17. Christina (aka Mom)

    So Susie for the 49th time today “How are you feeling sweetheart”…

  18. that recipe looks amazing!! sounds like such a fun and delicious alternative to an alfredo sauce (which i usually find to be too heavy anyway). must try!
    after my surgery i totally snapped on a couple of people over the “how are you feeling??” question…not very nice, but i hated being asked because it reminded me that there was some reason that i shouldn’t be feeling good. you have a much better perspective than i did :) awesome post as usual.

  19. Isn’t it funny that as a “not sick” person, I would feel like a b* if I just came over and chatted with you about how cute your dog is without asking how you were at all, when REALLY you’d prefer I do that haha.

    Also, cannot STAND the pain on a scale of 1-10 question… WHAT does this even mean? Have I ever felt pain at 10? probably not, but frankly I would not be telling you something hurts if I wasn’t concerned about it… duh! All those kind of scales seem silly to me anyway since some people have different tolerance for pain.

    • That’s a good point, I never really considered that people may be asking how I’m feeling just to be polite. At least those people now know they’re off the hook! Haha.

  20. O.O I will be making that as soon as I possibly can! My second (and last) final exam is next Friday and the 4 weeks after will be filled with culinary adventures over my break from school. This definitely makes the list, as does bacon-french toast cupcakes with maple buttercream frosting. The stress weight I’ve lost over the course of this semester? Planning on gaining it back.

  21. Oh, I understand this. After my miscarriage, I kept getting asked “How are you?” and it just sucked. Because you can’t say, “I’m feeling like shit because I lost my baby, actually” or “I feel like someone kicked my cervix with steel-toed boots, thanks for asking,” or “No, really, I’m thrilled I can go out and get wasted again.” I just hated it so much. It’s something I never thought about before but will be very sensitive to from here on out.

  22. Great post – I started following you just before you were dxd. I have been so impressed with your tenacity through out this whole ordeal! You are very inspirational!
    Here is my suggestion for your butternut sauce – substitute a can of coconut milk (not lite) for the cream and curry (2tbsps) for the nutmeg. I would have to make a few other changes as I do not eat any dairy or gluten products. I then would pour this awesome sauce over sauteed veggies and Pad Thai noodles – YUM!
    Keep your head high – you are doing amazing!!

    • Funny, as I was going to bed last night I was thinking to myself “I bet coconut milk would be a good non-dairy sub for that butternut squash sauce…” Because that’s the sort of thing I think about as I drift off to sleep ;) LOVE the idea of the curry though! And with pad thai noodles? Definite yum. Thank you so much!

  23. Lori Hope in her book “Help me Live — 20 Things people with cancer want you to know” also discusses this issue. She has two suggestions. One is to ask casually, “How you doin’?” like you would in any “normal” conversation — this allows for a choice of answers depending on how you feel. The second is to ask more specifically, “How are you today?” which again allows you a choice of how you answer, and allows you respond about right now, without the obvious baggage of your overall situation.

    I’ve tried it, and the simple addition of “today” at the end of How are you, seems to make a lot of difference. What do you think??

    • Yes, I fully support those two suggestions!! Actually, what I do now when people ask me how I’m feeling is automatically say, “Well TODAY, I feel really good” or “TODAY I feel really crappy.” It’s easier to answer that way. Although it’s different with people I see every day like family. I don’t always want to wake up every morning and immediately start talking about how sucky I’m feeling.

      I must read that book!

  24. I totally get you on this one, in a different way though.
    Since my brother was killed every time someone asks “So how are you doing? how’s the family? etc…” I appreciate the thought and all, but really, we are never going to be happy about it or anything. It just is what it is, and we have to deal. It pulls my head out of wherever I am at and where I have made my peace and forces me to relive the pain of the loss. I love checking out your blog, by the way!

  25. You are so brave! This is a great post and we could only imagine what you go through day in and day out. Those little words can really be tough for someone going through a tough time. I feel it is hard to answer, because I’m fine as the answer can be different things for different situations. As always you inspire us everyday to be grateful for our life and family! HUGS

  26. Sometimes, we just don’t know what else to say. “How are you” also means, I love you and care about you. Sometimes it’s the caring tone of the words and what the words really mean, not just the words themselves. If I saw you in person, I would hold your hands and look into your eyes when saying it, to you and anyone else I was concerned about.
    I think so many people are saying to you, actually shouting to you, “how are you”? And we mean that in the most thoughtful, tender way that we can <3

  27. “Instead I much rather talk about things like current events, movies, music, food, and cute things my dog did today. So how about we finish this off with some food?”

    This quote hits home for me, as I understand where you’re coming from. My mom just finished her third round of chemo for aggressive breast cancer and she says the same thing – that unless she talks about her health, assume not much has changed. She’d rather talk about current events, movies, etc like a normal person, because she’s still the same woman and it will HELP her recovery along. It will help her remember what it’s like to be her old self, and she’ll get there sooner.

    You are such a bright, strong young woman, and you’ll see the other side of this. Letting people know how to talk to you is part of getting through this countdown.

    • Those moments of normalcy are what keep me going, knowing that I’ll get over this eventually. It’s not that I never appreciate the sentiment of the “how are yous”, but sometimes I need to speak up and let others know what’s best for me. If something isn’t helping, then why waste the time? All the best to your mom!!

  28. Eventually the people closest to me have learned to stop asking. Because you’re right, it is exhausting. And it’s a hard question to answer. Given the day/circumstance, sometimes “fine” is damn good, sometimes “fine” is get off my case and I am actually doing really shitty and I don’t want to talk about it.

    Either way, it sucks to have the focus on you. I relate to that. So let’s focus on stuff like food…and celebrity gossip…and sports…

    Happy weekend my beautiful namesake!

    • Yes, its funny, because most people would love to be the focus and centre of so much love and attention. But I don’t think many people can take on the role of “sick person” that well, nor would they want that to be the reason why they get the attention. It just doesn’t feel right.

  29. Oh goodness my dear, I can only imagine. I always hated that question anyway, it’s not like anyone actually wants to hear how everyone else REALLY is……that’s just too much info, all cancer aside (not to discount the craziness you’re going through).

    I quite honestly think you’re being a mega trooper, despite all, and am inspired by your general awesomeness.

  30. YES to being fine! You really do have an amazing attitude & love your honesty!

  31. You are a very strong, very inspiring young woman…And it looks like you make a mean pasta dinner!

    Anytime you want to cook for me I will gladly accept ;)

  32. I’m grateful for these honest posts b/c I wouldn’t know about these errors without these posts. I’m sure I’d find other ways to offend or annoy but I guess if you systematically go through them all, I’d be better armed :-)

    And your secret is out about your photography haha! I wouldbn’t have noticed, but makes perfect sense!

    • Yes, it’s not to say people can’t ever say these things again, and let’s face it, I could use a better tolerance for them. But hey, if I can do something to make communication better, why not :)

  33. I think my most favorite response to someone asking me “How are you” was my uncle. I responded “I feel pretty good” and not one to mince words or take feelings into consideration, he goes “Well, you look like sh#!t. Have you slept at all?” It was so the opposite of how everyone else was treating me that it made me laugh so hard.

    Such a good topic to bring up. I’ve also found the “You’re an inspiration” thing to be really tricky too. How do you respond to that? I feel like inspirations are people who run into burning buildings to save old ladies, not someone who goes on with her life because what the hell else is there to do?? I think the questions and the concern and the inspiration thing are people just trying to figure out the best way to make you feel good and to not offend. I think the best thing that someone can say to a cancer patient is “How can I help?” instead of “How do you feel?” – because it takes the focus away from the person having to think about themselves and thinking about something they might need (aka a hug, walk my dog, make me food, everyone to go the heck away, etc.) Good work, as always :)

    • Hahaha, I wish someone would just tell me I look like shit already! But yes, I feel weird about the “inspiration” lines too. Mostly because “beating” cancer feels like a very passive act to me. I’m not really doing anything besides showing up to my scheduled treatments. Not sure how my ability not to puke today could inspire anyone ;) I guess attitude has a lot to do with it, but then again, I’m just being myself! I don’t know how to act any other way!

  34. Hi Susan,

    I am writing this with hope that it will be encouraging to you. You’re (I think you are) an amazing young woman, I can call you young because I am in my early 60’s. I have a 30 year old daughter that was in a sledding accident when she was 16. She had exercised that day, went sledding that evening with her older brother, his wife and other friends. She didn’t come home for 6 months. She “hit” a tree and was instantly a quadriplegic. Just like you said, you “get through” things when you have to. What reminded me most of that most difficult time in our lives, is your comment when people ask “how are you”. She had to wear a “Halo” for 3 months, to make her neck immovable while it was healing. If you’re not familiar with a halo,
    it has a metal ring (about an inch wide) that circles your head with metal bars attached to a brace that you wear, similar to a vest. This one particular day when we came to be with her when she was going through physical therapy, she had the therapist attach a comment to her halo. It was visible to anyone that came close to her. The comment was “Don’t Ask Me How I’m Doing”………She was sick of talking, sick of the situation she was in, scared because of being paralyzed. She was only 16, just reaching out for some freedoms and now she was incapable of doing anything. couldn’t scratch her own nose. It was truly a learning experience for us. To help her to be positive yet be balanced. She was remarkable. ….and so are you………

    I wrote this days ago, undecided whether to send it or not. Beyond all belief, our daughter, now walks, talks (she couldn’t for a while, her vocal cords had frozen-another story in itself), she drives, is married, loves her life, even though she does have permanent damage from the accident, it doesn’t stop her, nothing stops her, same as you.

    I’m not going to ask how you are, because I know you’re fine. Take each day at a time, all will be well.
    Much love and strength to you.

    • Carla, thank you for writing this! It’s nice to hear that others out there can relate to this and I’m not just being a cranky patient. I understand people ask how I’m doing because they care, but as I’m sure your daughter can understand, that’s not enough to make it better! I’m happy to hear she is doing well now. Time really is the only thing that can heal us xo

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