The problem: My son has had cancer twice. He is a happy, healthy kid now, but I often tell people in conversation about his illness without much thought. Sometimes they are shocked and don’t know what to say. Should I be more thoughtful about how I talk about this? Or should they understand that those of us who have battled this for years have normalized it?

Low road:  Bumper sticker? Nah, don’t go there.

High road: Kid. Cancer. Twice. I, too, admit to feeling shocked to see those words strung together. I much prefer your “happy and healthy.” Everybody is reacting appropriately here. Other people’s surprise and concern comes from a place of genuine empathy. That’s good. And you have good reason to continue, as you said, normalizing your son’s diagnosis and recovery.

The more we talk openly about cancer, instead of hiding behind phrases like “the Big C,” the more likely others will feel comfortable sharing their, or a loved one’s, diagnosis and getting the support they need. You give hope to them by sharing your son’s story. While I see no reason for you to self-censor, you might want to moderate a tad. Ask yourself if bringing up your son’s cancer is relevant to the conversation at hand. You don’t want to be the uni-theme mom at gatherings, and your son certainly would prefer it if people saw him not as heroic or superhuman, but simply as a nice, normal and blessedly healthy kid.

Your heartwarming story is always welcome, though, at a cancer-support group.

Send questions about life’s little quandaries to Read more of Gail’s “High Road” columns at