Friday, February 20, 2009

What to Say, Part Deux

Now that I've got a bit more experience, I wanted to elaborate on what I wrote in Part One of what to say/not to say to someone who has cancer.
DON'T say things like, "I'm sure you'll be fine." or "I just know everything will be all right." I know it sounds upbeat, but from here, it sounds like a lot of pressure. Change it to hope: "I really hope you'll feel better soon."
DON'T blurt out your horror stories. I know it's hard not to, especially when you don't know what to say and you want to fill the silence. But put yourself in our place: do you really want to hear about someone's cousin who died of cancer, when you're facing treatment and trying to feel positive? (See also Joys of Cancer #1) Change it to empathy: "I'm so sorry you have to go through this."
DON'T keep telling me I look great. First, it sounds false to me. Second, it's usually the cure that makes us look and feel sicker than the disease, so our appearance is kind of irrelevant. Maybe change it to a question: "Are you feeling as good as you look?"
DON'T avoid me. I'm fortunate that only two "friends" completely disappeared. I know it's scary, but I promise, you're not going to catch cancer from me. Just tell the truth: "I feel really awkward and I don't know what to say, but I want you to know that I'm thinking about you."
DON'T use war metaphors. This may be the hardest one, and I sometimes forget, myself! Using words like battle, win, fight, makes many cancer patients uneasy. And if the cancer returns, as it often it because I didn't fight hard enough?

DO take your cues from the patient. Some need desperately to act as if "normal life" is still going on, some need to confront and accept their sickness and limitations.
DO offer tangible help. We often don't know how to answer, "What can I do?" but we can answer questions like, "What do you need from the drug store?" or "Can I take the kids for the afternoon?" or "Would you prefer a tuna or chicken casserole?"
DO let me sulk and be miserable when I need to. Keeping a positive, cheery outlook through exhausting treatment is sometimes more than we can manage. A little sympathy, instead of insisting things will get better, can be much more comforting.
DO try and hang in there for the long haul. It's tedious to sympathize for months and months...but I assure you, it's more tedious to be sick for that long. Just a simple "thinking of you" phone call or email means more than you can imagine.
DO be willing to laugh! Be silly, share funny books and movies, try to find the comic relief in anything and everything. Laughter is the best medicine, and a tremendous physical and emotional release.
and finally...
DO celebrate milestones. Again, avoid the "hooray, you're cured!" thing, but it's wonderful to celebrate the last chemo or radiation treatment, the first post-bald haircut, etc.

These are just my suggestions. One cancer patient's perspective. Please let me know if I should add anything.


tim's wife said...

Totally agree with this. It's unbelievable what comes out of people's mouths and I ask myself
why they think we need to hear it.
My neighbor, a chiropractor who does not believe in innoculations(translated, his kids are getting a free ride off all of us who got our kids the shots) told me Tim has MM from getting flu shots. Mind you, he only had one in his life prior to MM and wouldn't we have an MM epidemic if that were true. People need to know when to stuff a sock in it. My mother-in-law pestered the heck out of me with her chiropractor's advice after Tim's dx which was mega amounts of vitamin C which has now been shown to counteract chemos used in MM and practically fertilize MM cells in vitro. I get tired of the ridiculous comments and advice. It's usually the last people who should open their mouths, that do.

La Cootina said...

I know, but it happens so often, I really think people just say things because they don't know what they should say; I'm sure they don't mean to be hurtful. (At least, that has been my experience.) So I haven't taken it personally or been offended.

Your neighbor sounds like a crackpot, though.