From the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Newsletter:
Finding the Right Words
It can be difficult to know what to say to someone with cancer. Unless you’ve been there yourself, you can’t possibly understand how it feels, although most of us appreciate you trying to!!
Many people say inappropriate things, with warm hearts. We often do the best we can but our efforts still fall short. How do we find the right words to talk to someone with cancer?
No Longer a Silent Disease
Years ago, people spoke in whispers about cancer. Today, despite its prevalence, advances in treatment, and increasing survival rates, the disease still carries with it a stigma.
People with cancer continue to face negative attitudes and stereotypes. The truth is, at some point, someone you know will likely get cancer. When it happens, you should be prepared to communicate appropriately about the disease.
Do's and Don'ts of Talking to Someone With Cancer
Many cancer survivors share similar stories of awkward encounters and upsetting comments made by well-meaning individuals. Their collective observations help us define “cancer etiquette,” or rules of conduct for communicating with the cancer community.
Since each person experiences cancer differently, one approach does not necessarily work for everyone. This information serves as a starting point for talking to someone with cancer. There is no single right way. Just keep trying.
12 Tips for Talking to Someone With Cancer
1. Don't ignore them. Some people disappear when someone they know gets cancer. The worst thing you can do is avoid the person because you don’t know how to handle it. Cancer can be lonely and isolating as it is. Tell them “I’m here for you,” or “I love you and we’ll get through this together.” It’s even okay to say “I don’t know what to say” or send a note that says “I’m thinking of you." Just stay connected.
2. Think before you speak. Your words and actions can be powerful. One comment can instantly undo someone’s positive mood. Don’t be overly grave and mournful. Avoid clichés, like “hero” and “battle.” If the person gets worse, does it mean they didn’t fight hard enough? Try to imagine if you were in their shoes. What you would want someone to say to you?
3. Follow their lead. Let the person with cancer set the tone about what they want to talk about. It doesn’t always have to be about cancer. Chances are they want to feel as normal as possible. Tell them about something funny that happened. When they want to talk about cancer, let them. And save the pity eyes and voice.
4. Keep it about them, not you. Don’t lose your focus on the person with cancer. Avoid talking about your headache, backache, etc. This isn’t about you. And as bad as you feel, they feel worse. They aren’t interested in hearing about how hard this has been on your life. Don’t put them in the position of having to comfort you. Only ask questions if you truly want to hear the response.
5. Just listen. Sometimes just being there to listen—really listen— is the best thing you can do. Let the person with cancer talk without interrupting them. You don’t always have to have all the answers, just a sympathetic ear. They may not want to talk at all, and would rather sit quietly. It’s okay to sit in silence.
6. Don’t minimize their experience. Try not to say “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” You don’t know that. Instead say “I’m really sorry” or “I hope it will be okay.” And don’t refer to their cancer as “the good cancer.” These statements downplay what they’re going through. Leave the door to communication open so they can talk about their fears and concerns.
7. Don’t be intrusive. Don’t ask the person with cancer questions about their numbers or tumor markers. If they want to talk about their blood results, they will. Give them the freedom to offer this information or not. Also, don’t ask personal questions that you wouldn't have asked before, especially when it comes to subjects like sex and religion.
8. Don’t preach to them. Don’t try to tell the person with cancer what to think, feel or how to act. You don’t know what they’re going through, so don’t act like you do. Instead of saying “I know how you feel,” try saying “I care about you and want to help.” Don't suggest alternative forms of treatment, a healthier lifestyle, etc. And don’t tell them to “stay positive,” it will only cause frustration and guilt.
9. Refrain from physical assessments. Refrain from comments about how the person with cancer looks, particularly if it’s negative. They don’t need their weight loss or hair loss pointed out to them. And if they just started treatment, don’t ask them about potential side effects. If you say anything at all, tell them they look stronger or more beautiful, but mean what you say.
10. Avoid comparisons. Everyone does cancer their own way. Don’t bring up the private medical problems of other people you know. And don’t talk about your friend with cancer who is running marathons or never missed a day of work. Avoid talking about the odds or making assumptions about their prognosis. Just allow them to be themselves.
11. Show them you care. Show the person with cancer that they’re still needed and loved. Give them a hug. Surprise them with a smoothie, books, magazines, or music. Offer to help, such as cooking, laundry, babysitting, or running errands. Be specific by asking “What day can I bring you dinner?” And, offer to help only if you intend to follow through with it and won’t expect something in return.
12. Share encouraging stories. Offer encouragement through success stories of long-term cancer survivors. Avoid saying “They had the same thing as you.” No two cancers are the same. And never ever tell stories with unhappy endings. If you know someone with the same type of cancer, offer to connect them.
I'm sure many of us could add to this list so please feel free to do so and hope it helps our nearest and dearest during what is a difficult time for them too!! :)
<message edited by Tricia Keegan on Thursday, November 03, 2011 4:45 PM>