Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What to say to someone who has cancer... part 2

After my other post on this subject, I researched the subject a little more and found these tips at

        What Should I Say to the Person Who Has Cancer?

It is normal to feel that you don't know what to say to someone who has cancer. You might only know the person casually, or you may have a closer relationship. The most important thing you can do is acknowledge the situation in some way – whatever is most comfortable for you. You can show interest and concern, you can express encouragement, or you can offer support. Sometimes the most simple expressions of concern are the most meaningful.

Respond from your heart!

Here are some ideas:

  • "I'm not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care."
  • "I'm sorry to hear that you are going through this."
  • "How are you doing?"
  • "If you would like to talk about it, I am here."
  • "Please let me know if I can help."
  • "I'll keep you in my thoughts."

While it is good to be encouraging, it is also important not to show false optimism or to tell the person with cancer to always have a positive attitude. Doing these things may be seen as discounting their fears, concerns, or sad feelings. It is also tempting to say that you know how the person feels. While you may know this is a trying time, no one can know exactly how the person with cancer feels.

Humor can be an important way of coping. It is also another source of support and encouragement. Let the person with cancer take the lead; it ishealthy if they find something funny about a side effect, like hair loss or increased appetite, and you can certainly join them in a good laugh. This can be a great way to relieve stress and to take a break from the more serious nature of the situation.

When the person with cancer looks good, let them know! Avoid making comments when their appearance isn't as good, such as "You're looking pale," or "You've lost weight." Cancer and its treatment can be very unpredictable. Be prepared for good days and bad days.

It's usually best not to tell the person with cancer stories about family members or friends who have had cancer. Everyone is different, and these stories may not be helpful. Instead, it is better simply to tell them you know something about cancer because you've been through it with someone else.

I also got some input in my comment section, and in email; thanks, folks, for your heartfelt thoughts.  I'm sharing those here also; I know not everybody has the time to come back and read the comment sections:

Comment from cvgflydis |
12/12/07 9:42 AM |

I think that the post is appropriate! My Mom had cancer~and it took her from us. She felt like shit most days, but never let on........always said, "I feel alright". I knew she felt horrible, but knew she worried more about us than herself.

The most astounding thing to see, for me, while she was ill, was the amount of food that came into her home. I thought it was a lost art, honestly! And I cannot tell you how much it helped myself and my Dad! We were able to concentrate on her care, and not dinner. No need for grand menu's..........homemade soups, store brought deli sandwiches........bottom line, we didn't HAVE to cook.

I miss her everyday. Every Single day. I think this post would summarize everything she felt and more.


Comment from csandhollow |
12/12/07 9:18 AM |

I have not gone thru it. I do know people that have. I heard them same thing from some of them also.
I know that when I broke my back,people would say to me at least you can walk and you are not in much pain. What did they know? Could they feel my pain? ARGGGG        

Comment from mutualaide |
12/12/07 7:43 AM |
Hmmm.  I think just jumping in and doing what needs doing without a word is pretty effective and helpful.  I applaud this woman's willingness to put her feelings out there because the reminder to me is 'think before you speak'.  But I also remember we are all only human and we are all imperfect.  Maybe some credit should be given for 'the trying'.
I think this person expressed her feelings very well and she gave us quite an insight into what she'd gone through.  A lot of what she was saying to NOT say I'd have thought would have been obvious, but maybe not to some people.  I know from my own end I often worry excessively over what to say to someone fighting cancer.  We could all, probably, inadvertantly say something unthinkingly "stupid", and we're going to have to be able to forgive ourselves if we do that.  But I think when someone going through chemo or other treatments can let us know what this lady is letting us know it helps us to be more caring and considerate in what we say.  I can remember a woman once saying that when she had a death in the family her neighbors came over and without asking or explaining or waiting to be told, they cleaned the lady's entire house, and they stocked the refrigerator and pantry.  When the family got home from the trip to the funeral they had a well-stocked and clean home.  Sometimes, like this woman says, just being there is important.

Comment from riverdaughter196 |12/11/07 3:54 PM |Actions [+]
Yeah I would have to agree with some of it.  Chemo sucks.  But at least that person has the option of chemo.  My father didn't.  He also didn't have the option of radiation.  Doctors sent him home stating there was nothing to be done.  At least that person gets to fight it.  He/she had that option.  Some cancer patients don't.  

Comment from breakaway1968 |
WOW and again I say WOW!  Ya it IS so hard to know what to say to someone who has cancer and I know it's MIL has/is suffering from it right now.  She has had it three times now and was on Cemo all three times.  Her new cancer now is brain cancer!  Yes, it'shard and NOOOO us who have not had cancer don't know how it feels BUT we try our best to comfort and be there for the people who are suffering from it.    I'm sure that if the people she is talking about in this rant reads this they  will be hurt and think OH my I didn't realize...because honestly we DON'T know what to say.  I can certainly see how and why this person is upset...yes, some of the things in here ARE things that... if you have any common should not be saying to a cancer patient.  However, some of the things like telling them they will be ok for instance...I would think that they would only be trying to help make her feel hopeful with that statement not mean any disrespect at all!.  These rants are what makes those who don't have cancer afraid to confront those who do because what if we make them feel bad??  I know I would not want someone to get sad who is already fighting a terrible deadly disease to feel even worse!  SO, what DO we say to them?  They are right when they says just bring that movie over and lets have a  movie night...I'm sure that would be a great thing to do when someone is down.  That is a great idea!  It is nice that they also add what we CAN do to help.  
Boy, I sure hope THIS comment doesn't get anyone angry or make anyone feel hurt by it because I sure don't mean anything hurtful by it at all.  Just my opinion on the rant is all!  And my heart does goes out to those suffering from this horrible disease!  It is so hard watching someone suffer EVERY single day for so long!  I sure wish I could take My MILs pains away if only for a day!  I would

This from a long-time friend who has seen some tough health issues in the past couple of years:

“I read the posting on your blog with a great deal of interst.. the chemo will not be part of my treatment ever as it will not be an option.. and at this time I am doing well.. saw the oncologist yesterday and he was pleased.. white count is up but thats not going to change.. part of the lymphoma... but no new swelling in the lymph glands and i hopefully will not see him again now for 3 months.. I understand a lot what the woman was saying after having had a year of really icky health... and I know people do say some strange things but I always tried to remember they were trying... none ofus ever always says the perfect thing...but the friends who were just here... sitting quietly when talking was not easy... doing my laundry when I could not do it.. these are the memories i shall always have... it has been a learning year for me too.. and hopefully made me much more appreciative of each day.. I think the best thing one can say to anyone in a time of problems is.. I am here.. I care.”

And this from Mary, who has worked with oncologists in their offices in the past:    

I just read your entry about the persons suggestions of what NOT to say to someone with cancer.  When I ran a practice I found that the people were so defined by the cancer that they appreciated if you asked them normal questions, not CANCER questions.  How is your son doing in law school?  Hey that blouse is beautiful; where did you get it?  Are you going to the office party?  JUST THE STUFF YOU'D ASK OTHER PEOPLE.  They are sick of answering "How are you?"  & hearing " YOU LOOK GREAT".  Or constant cancer questions.


breakaway1968 said...

I really like the "I'm not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care"  I will use that one if I run into the situation.  Thanks for the info...this really did help.  

magran42 said...

I agree with your friend....There is no perfect thing to say to such a situation.

randlprysock said...

What a wonderful entry Mosie.  This has great suggestions.  Hugs!!!!!!

lanurseprn said...

My best friend Joey has cancer, and is going through chemo again for the umteenth time. Usually, I let him take the lead in the conversation.  I know the cancer is there...and he knows it. Sometimes we just do NOT need to discuss it, yanno?

lorinokla said...

cancer stole my mom from me when I was 11 yo. I can remember people bringing over food and dinners to feed my Father, Grandmother, and I. I do not remember much, except for the heavy silence that hung over our home and hushed whispers.

Now when I hear/know someone has cancer. I do not have much to say because I know the pain cancer can cause.

This is a great post Donna, no one else as ever posted something like this. I find it very useful.

helmswondermom said...

I think Mary makes an excellent point of the importance of non-cancer questions and comments.