Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16, 2010 - What To Say or Do When a Friend Gets Cancer

Here’s a helpful video clip from the Today Show, featuring Lori Hope, author of the new book, Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You to Know:

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When I was sick, I was so fortunate to have so many friends from the church bring over food for the family. We never got tired of those gestures, repeated every other day or so for months. It wasn’t an economic thing; it was a way of giving us time with each other.

Of the clueless comments cited by survivors in the video clip, the one I remember hearing is “I know exactly how you’re feeling.” To me, that’s probably the number-one thing not to say. I’s meant to be a helpful comment, but it’s so patently untrue. Every person’s journey is different. Sure, there are points of commonality, but we do well to respect each other’s differences.

I also remember people quizzing me about what I might have done that brought on cancer. Is there any dietary or environmental link that leads to lymphoma, they wanted to know. I figure these comments had more to do with the person making them than with me. They saw what I was going through, and they were trying to reassure themselves that the same thing wasn’t likely to happen to them.

I do have to confess, though, that when I hear of someone diagnosed with lung cancer, I really have to refrain from asking if the person ever smoked. Maybe it’s a carryover from my experience with my father, who died of smoking-induced emphysema complicated by lung cancer. I want to reassure myself I’m not a risk.

Whether the loved one persisted in unhealthy, cancer-causing behaviors is neither here nor there. Such a question has nothing to do with begin supportive. It’s more an attempt to satisfy our own morbid curiosity, and to allay our irrational fears. So, I really work hard to avoid asking that one, myself.