What NOT to Say to Someone with Cancer

When presented with the opportunity for a new life experience, many of us  take anywhere from a few moments to a few days to “bone up” (study) on what we may need to know for the greatest success, pleasure, reward and impact when we have said “new experience.” The internet is an incredible resource for quick studies on damn near everything. So as I sat considering today’s blog, I started with a simple search engine query to find out what others have had to say about: “What not to say to someone with cancer.
There were 52,100,100 search results. Wow. Why bother with today’s blog?
Maybe the real question is: why have there needed to be 52,100,100 posts, articles, videos, newsletters, ezines and statements about this topic? Clearly, people aren’t getting the memos being sent out over and over and over and over. While no one denies the good intentions that friends and community may feel deeply toward a cancer patient and their family, nor the gratitude that a cancer patient and their family feel in response to the care and concern extended to them, there truly are things that one SHOULD NOT SAY to someone with cancer.

Lori Hope at care pages has written a short and clear piece about this issue that I highly recommend, while pink prozac’s blog relates “41 Things Not To Say To Someone With Cancer” in a very direct, non nonsense, language colorful manner. Wild Roses has both a “what not to say” entry as well as a “what TO SAY article” that is very well informed and positive.

Should I attempt to be the 100th monkey on this topic? The one that ultimately tips the proverbial balance so that there is an awakening of compassion and understanding in how to talk with cancer patients? The answer is yes. Because if you want to have the greatest success, pleasure, reward and impact in the life of a friend battling cancer; if you want to be a part of their HEALING journey, then you need to study up on how best to communicate and be present for that person and their family.

I won’t recreate a list of 41 things (but please, click the link and see for yourself). I am going to touch on things I hear about eight times a week (unless I happen to be at a social event, in which case – I hear them eight times in an hour).  For each of these, I offer an alternative thing one might say instead.

1. “What’s your (son’s) prognosis? “As Lori Hope says, this word reminds us of mortality. Hearing it challenges one’s ability to remain present and positive. 

Try this
: You are in my thoughts and prayers.

2. “I saw your son, he looks great for someone with cancer.” What is someone with cancer supposed to look like? My son looks like himself. He cares about his appearance in the world, even when he feels like shit, is completely exhausted, frustrated over having his nineteen year old life ripped off and has just weathered an hour long nosebleed and a three hour blood transfusion.

Try this
: I’ll bet this sucks. Would you like to talk?

3. “I had a (fill in relation) who had cancer.” Stop. Just stop. Don’t even think of telling the story unless it is positive and the outcome is LIFE.
Try this
: Say nothing. Offer a hug. Say I love you. Talk about something besides cancer.

4. To me, the caregiver/mom: “You’re so lucky you don’t have to work right now.” Good grief. First, I’d take ANY job over having my boy have cancer. Second, this IS work. My son is working harder than he’s ever in his life – for his life; I am working very hard also – to support him, his sisters and myself. Third, I’m unemployed and while the timing (as if there were such a thing with cancer) allows me to care for my son, this is anxiety producing on multiple levels.
Try this
: I’ll bet this is hard work. or – I have a lead on a part time job for you that will allow you to keep taking care of your son.

5. Again, to me: “I just can’t imagine having my child die before I do. Where do you find your strength and positive attitude?” Guess what? I can’t imagine such a thing either. What parent wants to imagine such a thing? Our family is moving through stages of grief and loss. Dealing with depression, anxiety and panic is very taxing. I am doing this because I love my child. I find strength in my love for my child – just as any true parent does in times like these.
Try this
: I’m here for you. So there you have it.

Now the search engine will read 52,100,101 results. Hopefully this one will help teach.

About Martha Phelps Studio ~ creative on purpose

...a meandering journal of a changing life and the unexpected graces it brings. Earlier posts may provide some history, but this series of writings aren't likely to follow a straight line as I explore topics such as raising kids, making choices, self discovery, the impact of change on a family and how to (hopefully) live with balance and purpose. www.marthaphelps.com
This entry was posted in Reid's Journey, Siftings and Essays of the Heart and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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