What Do You Say To A Person With Cancer?
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Despite the fact that cancer will directly or indirectly touch one out of every three people, do we really know what to say to friends, family, neighbors, or other acquaintances that have this illness? How can we make sure that we say positive, uplifting statements rather than ones that will leave the sufferer even more devastated? Read on!
First of all, people with cancer are just the same as you and me. They think, feel, and act just the same as the rest of us. So, there is no need to be frightened of them. The fear or discomfort we experience when we meet up with a newly diagnosed cancer patient is our own fear. We must be quite clear about that. Once we accept that, we are well on our way to being able to offer good quality support to help our friend or family member through this ordeal.
This is true regardless of whether there is a good chance for a complete cure or whether the diagnosis is terminal. It is also true for all forms of chronic conditions such as MS, lupus, motor neurone disease, psychiatric illnesses, as well as para- and quadriplegics. It is our own fear that limits our ability to truly relate to and help these people who are in need.
I have had the experience of a client who, after her cancer diagnosis became widespread news, found that some people would cross the street to avoid her when she did her shopping. These people were long-term neighbors and acquaintances. As devastated as she was by the diagnosis, she was even more devastated by the reaction of these people. She was, and is, a lovely lady, yet it was not her that these people couldn’t deal with, it was their own immaturity and desire to avoid difficult situations that made them act this way. Once she realized that her acquaintances were frightened of talking about “it,” she didn’t feel quite so upset about the situation. Yet she certainly felt the isolation of losing these potential support people.
On the other hand, there exists another group of people who seem to be consumed by filling the newly-diagnosed cancer sufferer with all sorts of stories about other people with cancer, including those who didn’t make it. Please don’t do this. The human mind is an extremely powerful piece of machinery and listening to stories of cancer victims who lost their fight can have an enormous impact on the listener. What is needed in this situation are positive role models to follow: stories of those who have survived and gone on to lead fruitful, happy lives.
In the case of your friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, you first need to be clear about your own fear of mortality and work on accepting that concept. Once you can overcome, or at least accept your own mortality, you can be the very best support person for your friend.
Give them permission to talk about their fears. Try not to minimize these fears, they are very real to them. Offer gentle and constant support. At times of crisis in our lives, we all need an arm around the shoulder and a soft word in our ear. W all must go through our own ordeals alone, but it is a great blessing not to have to walk that walk alone.
Try to make a resolution to be there for someone you know is in pain.
The reward is being able to cope with your own life difficulties in
a much more effective way.