Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What To Say When a Friend Has Cancer

Here's an insightful article, shared by Betsy de Parry on the Patients Against Lymphoma group on Facebook. "Vital Tips to Keep Hope Alive Through Cancer" is a blog post by Lori Hope, a lung cancer survivor, on the CarePages website.

Lori's main focus is on what not to say to friends who have cancer. It really is helpful to think ahead of time about how to use our words in helpful, healing ways.

Sometimes the thoughts that first come to mind aren't all that therapeutic for friends with cancer. They may even make life more difficult. Such comments say more about ourselves, and our anxieties, than about the other's needs.

Here's a brief, digested form of Lori's pointers. For the full list, click on the link to the full article.)

• Don’t inadvertently blame the victims by hinting that they may not be thinking positively.

• Don’t blame the victims by asking about possible risky behaviors they may previously have engaged in, like smoking. This is an absolute no-no. (You may be wondering about it, but don't ask.)

• Don't share stories about people you've known who've had the same form of cancer, but didn't survive (Lori says she needs to hear at least five success stories to counter one such horror story).

To that one, I'd add a codicil: Don't share stories about people who had a completely different kind of cancer, thinking it will somehow be encouraging. The word "cancer" covers a vast family of diseases, making it very hard to generalize from one type to another.

So much for what not to say. Now, here are a few positive suggestions:

• For friends who may find it hard to be continually confronted by discouraging statistics, offer to help with research - but don't forward articles without first reading them through completely.

• Try not to be gloomy. Humor is therapeutic, so help your cancer-survivor friends find things to laugh about!

• Every once in a while, remind your friends you’ll be there for them, no matter what. Some survivors have the experience of losing longtime friends who simply drift away, because they can't handle the situation emotionally. It's always good to be reminded of friends who are still there for us.


Joan Calvin said...

For heaven's sake don't tell your friend how important it is to have a positive attitude. That does not help and it is not true. Scientific studies have shown that attitude has NO effect on cancer. Someone with cancer is as entitled to his/her feelings as anyone else is.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I wish everyone could read it. I am a Christian and I recall one of the first things a friend said to me was "If He heals you you will be blessed and if you die you'll be blessed so it's a win, win situation!" Truthfully, that is so. But it didn't set well with me emotionally. I have had no one ask to enter into my sufferings with me. Even Jesus wept at the report of the death of his friend. We need to remember to be compassionate with others, no matter what disease they are dealing with. Thanks for letting me spout off!!!

Anonymous said...

I think the best thing that you can say to someone with cancer is "I am here for you through this entire journey whenever you need me and no matter what happens that neither one of us can possibly know right now."
As caregivers, family, friends it is not our place to pretend that we really know what it is like to have cancer. It is our place to say that we are brave enough to be by your side through each step no matter where it takes each of us.