Thursday, December 17, 2009

What to say and what to do to help

As often happens, I was surfing the net this morning and ended up reading sites on topics unrelated to where I started. I came across some articles on how to talk to and support people who have cancer. (See links below).

You would think that I would know what to say to other people with cancer. After all, I’ve been there myself. Yet sometimes I struggle, mainly because I know that we are all so different. What may be comforting to me may be upsetting to someone else. It also depends on the day and how the person is feeling.

Because I’m pretty open and practical about my prognosis, my honesty can sometimes make others feel uncomfortable. A friend (who also has metastatic cancer) and I have established a signal; if one of us crosses the line too far over to the ‘dark side’, the other person will simply hold 2 fingers up to form an ‘X’. We haven’t had to use it yet, but I feel better knowing that there’s a way out for my friend if I unknowingly babble on about something that is upsetting to her.

Keeping in mind that every person with cancer is different (and can have a different reaction on any given day), here is a list of what has personally been helpful to me in the past:

Appointment partners. I no longer feel the need to have someone with me, even when the news isn’t the best. But back when I first found out that the cancer had returned, I was grateful for the friends who came to appointments with me, first when I had a biopsy and then when I saw the oncologist and got the news that it had spread. (Thank you Anka & Peggy!)

Food. When I was going through treatments last time, I ended up with the most wonderful assortment of soups and meals in my freezer and some friends even came and cooked for me in my own kitchen. (I’d list them here but there were so many that I know I’d miss someone). Containers that don’t have to be returned are appreciated.

Muscle power. My next door neighbors kept my walkways clear all last winter. They didn’t ask – they just did it. (Thank you Marisa, Dale & boys!)

Visits: I enjoy having company and it was great to have visits (short when I wasn’t feeling well).

Hold the pity! There is nothing worse than the ‘pity look’. I’d much rather someone say “Well, that just sucks!” than “Oh, you poor thing”.

Stay in touch. Even though he lives in Europe, my son Adam calls, emails & sends postcards when he travels. We don't often talk about my cancer; I just love hearing about what he's up to and feeling that I'm part of his life, even if from a distance.

Too much advice. In their effort to be helpful, people will pass on information about new drugs, treatments, holistic healers and witchdoctors. Most of this is old news to us. If there’s something out there worth looking into, chances are we’ve already looked into it.

Over-reactions. Everyone has bad days. People with cancer have them too but sometimes we try to hide them because it seems to worry and upset others if they think we are down.

Support of decisions. You might do something different if it was you. But you really don’t know for sure unless you’ve walked in our shoes. What’s right for one person may not be right for another.

Laughter. After my mastectomy in 1998, a male co-worker said to me “Oh well, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em both”. Someone else might have been offended but he knew that I have a twisted sense of humor and he gave me the best belly laugh I’d had in a long time.

Online articles:
How to Talk to a Friend With Cancer By Claudia Wallis
How to Talk to a Newly Diagnosed Cancer Patient By Beth Slomka
How to Talk To, or Help, Someone Battling Cancer - During Treatment and After By Nikki
How to support a loved one reeling from cancer diagnosis By Sheila Chase
Cancer survivors explain how support from friends and family was critical to fighting the disease By BETH DECARBO
Tips for family and friends By Chris Lynds

1 comment:

Jaclyn said...

This is my first time to your blog but this is a great post. I'm actually wondering if I can re-post it to a blog I write for Human Tribe Project. is a new, free website that allows friends and family to connect, support and raise money for a loved one facing cancer. Our goal is that no one has to fight cancer alone. Please email me at if it is ok to re-post and check out the website and let me know what you think.