What to say to someone who is diagnosed with Cancer
I've always imaged it would be hard knowing what to say to someone who is diagnosed with Cancer. Unfortunately, Cancer is still very taboo and a sensitive subject so it can be a real challenge in knowing what is right and what is wrong.
I haven't had anyone close to me diagnosed with Cancer **touch wood** so this post will come from the perspective of someone who does have Cancer and what I recommend you can and should avoid saying to someone. This is my opinion and it may not apply to everyone but I thought this post could help some people or at least get them thinking.
What to say
1. When someone first tells you about their diagnosis, smile or maybe put your hand on their shoulder and say "you're going to be fine, you've got this." I cant express to you how much worse it is seeing someone frown at you and have the words 'worry' written all over their face. When you have Cancer you need as much positivity as possible and it helps when you have people cheering you on. Id much rather that than have someone feel sorry for me or scared. This is part the reason why I don't tell a lot of people the full extent of my illness and what Ive been through. I just want good vibes, smiles and some laughter whenever I can get it.
2. Every-time you see or speak to this person, try to not act like they are sick. What I mean is, I have a lot of people messaging me or phoning me and the first thing they ask is "how are you feeling" which is so lovely but maybe start things off with something funny that happened to you that day, or a memory you two had or a funny picture. As patients we get asked constantly how we are feeling and for me, it gets exhausting talking about my cancer and infections and pains and itchy skin. 90% of the time I want to hear about my friends lives and whats going on in the outside world, what they did over the weekend. Have similar conversations you had with the person pre-diagnosis
3. Another thing I appreciate is "Let me know when you're up for a visit or catch up." This leaves it in our court and we don't feel like we are pushing ourself to do things that we sometimes don't have the energy for or aren't in a social mood. Allow the person to decide when they can see you and please, please, please don't get offended if it isn't for a while. I know with me, Im super prone to infections so I have to be careful with who I see, where I go, what I eat etc. I don't want to risk getting hospitalized so most times I have to be the anti-social bubble boy.
What not to say
1. If someone goes into remission, please don't respond with "so... its all gone, its over now? how did it all disappear?" Someone once said that to me and I didn't know what to say. Once you go into remission you still have a lot of fear about reoccurrence and having someone ask you if its gone forever is a hard thing to respond to and a bit of a touchy subject, because really, we never know if its gone forever and we'd rather focus on the now and celebrating the good news. Instead you could say "Thats amazing, I knew you could get through this and Im so proud of you, lets go for lunch to celebrate!"
2. The biggest one for me is "its just hair, it'll grow back." I know people mean well when they say this (Im not saying this is wrong to say) and it must be hard to react to the news of someones hair falling out but please bare in mind, its someones identity. I know when I lose my hair I don't feel like me anymore and you're grieving that loss. I also feel like the 'sick girl' when I don't have any hair on my body, so you see it is more than just a physical thing, but a massive mental and emotional experience.
The things I found more uplifting were things like:
"I know this is a shitty side effect of treatment, but think about how its going to help you get better"
"look at it as if you're shedding skin and your old life and this is the new you"
"You have every right to be upset at this, I know it must be difficult but imagine how strong and thick you're hair will be once it grows back"
"I think you'll pull of a buzz cut and the no hair look amazingly!"
3. Ok, this one is actually the biggest one " have your tired eating this? its supposed to kill cancer cells." Golly gosh I've had some strange suggestions of things to consume, rub on my tumour sites and activities to partake in to kill my cancer cells. At one point I was having applecustard leaves in my tea, eggplant in almost every meal, freshly squeezed Orange juice every morning, a shot of wheatgrass everyday and supplements and on top of all that my treatment and medication. It all got too much. Its fine to have an open discussion about things but keep it at that rather than bugging the person to see if they've tried it yet or continuously bringing it up in conversation.
4. Lastly, try to discuss visiting times. I've had people show up to my house of the hospital at the worst times and putting on a brave face and being social is torture at that time. Especially when someone is in hospital I would ask when is a good time and day to pop in for a few minutes. I have spent weeks on end in hospital and every single day you have a team of nurses, doctors and specialist coming in and out asking questions, stabbing you with needles, pushing and poking parts of your body. A moment of silence and peace is highly appreciated. If you walk in during those rare moments of calmness it can be frustrating and unsettling for the patient. I also spend a lot of time at home sitting in silence, looking out to the ocean and being still or meditating or cooking with my music on...just enjoying a break which is so important to me.
I hope this gives you a bit of an insight into what its like on the other side and how you can help with words and actions. If you feel hopeless there are simple gestures that go a long way. For example you could drop a home cooked meal for them (ask them first if they have any food restrictions), if they have kids you could offer to pick them up from school and take them for the afternoon, ask if they need help with house work, buy them a pair of pyjamas (our uniform during treatment) or a book for them to read and relax to.
See you in my next post
The Sana Soul.