How to Own Your Narrative When the Grief Tourists Get Ahold of Your Cancer Gossip

Posted: May 2, 2022






Mental Health


We talked about the cancer muggles and positivity pushers (aka people who may have good intentions but do more damage). Grief tourists are another beast in the cancer world. A grief tourist is someone who pretends to care about your cancer on social media but never offers their help in any actual, meaningful capacity. 

These “sightseers” feed off of knowing someone with cancer (you!), gossiping, and acting helpful when they’re not. So maybe it’s the DM from that old college friend like, “Hey girl, I’m here for you! Let me know if you need anything.” 

Oh! I totally will make sure you’re the first one I call when I need someone to hold my hair while hovering over the toilet or drive me to an appointment. *Major eye roll*

Cancer gossip is juicy, unfortunately. But your illness isn’t someone else’s tea.

"Cancer is great gossip. Within twenty-four hours, word of my diagnosis swept through our small town like a fire through sagebrush." -Suleika Jaouad, Between Two Kingdoms

We tend to think of gossip like rumors: negative, false, fast-spreading info. But that’s not always the case — “the tea” can be about true and accurate things. Gossip comes down to talking about or sharing information about another person when they’re not present to weigh in. 

So, in essence, someone who isn’t you simply telling someone else that you have cancer is considered gossip (let alone getting into the weeds with details). 

Maybe your MIL texted a family group chat without you knowing, or a coworker let the whole breakroom in on the news. It can be hurtful — so why do they do that shit?

Why is gossiping a thing?

Gossip serves a social purpose. It helps humans connect on a more intimate level through shared information, especially when there’s nothing better to talk about. But it’s usually at the expense of someone’s privacy. 

It’s also rooted in our desire to be part of groups — and fit in. According to professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University Mark Leary, Ph.D. in a Health interview says, “Gossiping is a fundamental human instinct because our lives are deeply rooted in groups. We not only live in groups, but we also depend on the people in our groups to survive.” 

That’s why cancer gossip makes for great watercooler or Slack conversation at the office, too (link to work article). Read about how to handle convos around your cancer at work in this post. 

Own your narrative — it’s up to you to decide the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your cancer diagnosis.

Find your tribe. 

The best way to keep out weeds is with healthy mulch. This goes for your friends, too (but without the dirt). 

Your tribe will help protect you, know whose opinions matter, and gate keep your shared experience so it doesn’t turn into cancer gossip. Surround yourself with supportive people and remove toxic relationships that don’t serve you. 

Decide who is in your circle to be trusted with intimate details, and communicate what can be shared with other loved ones. For instance, you may decide these things are fair game for the group chat:

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