DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been diagnosed with a fatal, incurable cancer. Most co-workers are aware of my condition, but they still routinely ask "How are you?" when I come to the office.
I resist saying "I'm fine," because it is untrue and insincere. "I'm dying from incurable cancer" is also not an answer of which I see Miss Manners approving.
So I have these two dodges: "If you allow me a healthy margin for denial, I'm doing fine," or "I have no new complaints."
I have to say that I gave a different, snarky answer to the team of doctors who assembled to discuss my case and asked the same question: "How are you doing?" In response, I said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could assemble a team of highly educated, experienced medical professionals and get them to answer that question?" (This response was met with well-deserved icy stares.)
As a devoted reader, I have learned that Miss Manners doesn't think you should make people feel bad if you can avoid it. So I offer my two solutions to those with the same predicament and hope Miss Manners approves.
GENTLE READER: "The best that can be expected under the circumstances," with a wan smile, should suffice, as it pacifies the audience without exaggerating the truth.
But yes, you are correct on both accounts. Those demanding "How are you?" are usually just being polite and generally not interested in more than a utilitarian reply. Miss Manners sees the fatigue in answering it constantly and without truth.
However, if it is the inquirers' job to monitor the outcome -- as it is with doctors -- they are not after pleasantries. You may treat the question as a clinical one with no need to censor it for the squeamish.