06th September 2017

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“Cancer care is so personalized that your well-meaning advice about someone you knew doesn’t pertain to the person you’re talking about”. Unless you’ve been asked, hold back on offering suggestions.

When it comes to clueless cancer comments, patients have heard them all, tumbling out of the mouths of colleagues, strangers and even loved ones

Some are universally annoying; others, more individually perturbing.

“Best of luck on your journey!” ….. I wanted to tell the perky people who tossed this at me like bon voyage confetti. I’m not embarking off on a cruise to Mauritius / Seychelles.

Wondering what you should or shouldn’t say to a cancer patient?

Read on for a few basic tips.

What are your odds? Questions like this from a loved one are to be expected. But when they come from a virtual stranger – that’s just plain wrong. “There’s a very narrow group of people you’re closest to who deserve to have some idea about this so they can help support you.”

“But for the average friend or more peripheral person, it’s up to the cancer patient to divulge what they want.” In this instance, it’s better to let the patient lead the conversation, i.e., if you have sensitive questions, keep them to yourself. The patient will let you know if they want to share.

“You brought this on yourself”. Cancer patients do a lot of internal finger pointing as it is. Was it the weight gain? The stress? That mean thing I said to what’s-his-face back in high school? The last thing we need is additional blame and shame from self-righteous souls who think they’ve cracked the code on our cancer.

Forget the lectures and try listening instead…….

I know someone with your type of cancer…. They died. I’ve had so many people blurt this out after hearing about my diagnosis that it’s almost become a joke. Sure, I get that they may be mourning a loved one and/or trying to demonstrate some commonality. But no soldier at war wants to hear about the casualties. Or about how painful and debilitating everything got before the bitter end (seriously, people, process those details with your non-cancer friends).

Cancer is scary and we’ve got to respect that.” Instead of immediately blurting out bad news, take a moment to put yourself in the cancer patient’s shoes – think about what you are about to say – and ask yourself > Would you want to hear that?

Heres a classic …… does chemotherapy make you nauseous? – a gentle tip when you try and throw this one at me …. make sure you aren’t within arms reach.

Forget what your doctor says, you should try X, Y or Z.  Juicing and jogging. Meditation and yoga. Coffee enemas and shots of Vitamin K. Sometimes it seems like everybody knows better than the professionals who’ve studied your scans and blood work and pathology reports and — hello! — cancer itself. But with the advent of the cyber social media and google second guessing doctors is practically a Global phenomenon.

Cancer is full of surprises and discovering who’s really got your back is one of them. I’ve had those who I considered casual acquaintances come through like gangbusters. And long-term friendships dry up and blow away like so many dead leaves. Yes, cancer is scary and yes, it’s hard to know what to say. But when a loved one responds to “I have cancer” with silence, that conjures up a special kind of pain.

Overwhelmed by a friend or family members’ diagnosis? Don’t focus on the cancer; focus instead on the person you love and what you can do for them, try to remember “it’s about them; it’s not about you.”

Still flummoxed about what you should do or say to a loved one with cancer? A few additional thoughts:

Speak from the heart. A simple “I’m so sorry” is a perfectly fine thing to say in response to a new diagnosis (ditto for hugs). Also, nice to hear: I love you; I’m there for you; I hate this FUCKING disease and I’m bringing chocolate over right now.

Remember, even cancer patients get cancered out. Nobody wants to talk about one single aspect of their life 24/7. Either way, don’t forget to check in with your loved one about other aspects of their life – their work, their relationship’s. Just because someone is diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean they stop being the person they were before pre -diagnosis.




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