How to talk to someone with Cancer
Knowing how to talk to someone with cancer can be terrifying and made even harder when you know and are close to that person.
Will you know what to say? How do you know what is the right thing to say? Is there even a right thing to say.
Firstly, I want to thank absolutely everyone who has taken the time to contact me after hearing about my breast cancer diagnosis – as well as appreciating your beautiful words of positivity and encouragement, I just think it takes so much strength and guts to send those messages when most of you probably didn’t have a clue what to say to me. Thank you, thank you! Thank you for having the courage and for taking the time to reach out to me.
My breast cancer diagnosis has set in and my treatment has started and I’ve had some time to think about some of the messages I’ve loved reading – the hundreds from family, friends, colleagues, blogging friends, amazing readers, complete strangers, medical professionals, everyone!
I just want to caveat this post with hoping, as always, to not come across as bossy or ungrateful. It’s your perfect messages that have given the inspiration for this post to hopefully help others speak to their loved ones about cancer when they might not know what to say. Of course what works for me might not for someone else but I hope this helps a little at least :)
So, in no particular order, here are a few tips on how to talk to someone with Cancer:
1. Fine doesn’t always mean Fine
Try not to assume they’re fine because they say they are – assume they’re not fine but they do not want to talk about it for one reason or another.
Make suggestions of ways you could help if they ever want you to in the future – calling to say Hi, looking after kids, helping to cook, drop offs or pick ups from appointments etc. Keep the conversation going by keeping in touch – they might just be waiting for the right time when they’re ready to open up and ask for help.
2. Remember it isn’t ‘Just Hair’ that they might lose, it’s Their Hair
That hair is a part of them so try not to be too dismissive. Offer sympathy, don’t bombard them with ideas of how they should deal with the hair loss. Ask if they have a plan of how to manage it, ask if they want you to do any research for them, or to go to the hairdressers or help choose a wig.
Offer to shave your own hair off! They won’t take you up on it but they’ll be blown away that you’ve offered. Just, um, be prepared to follow through if they DO take you up on it! And what a bloody brilliant person you are if you do ha ha :) (This is NOT a hint, I do not want any friends to shave their heads for me!)
3. Hold the horror stories
Never ever ever ever give bad news stories about others you know who did not do well with cancer. In fact, try to only talk about positive stories of those who you know personally who survived and are living happily cancer free now.
4. Always ask permission before offering any advice
I’ve had some amazing suggestions from friends and family on different treatment plans to research, diet advice, how to lift my mood if I feel down – all sorts of wonderful things I would never have thought of. The best part is, they’ve asked me first if I actually want to hear their recommendations and I’ve welcomed them.
Some might only be interested in following their medical professionals advice and otherwise keeping it simple so bear that in mind if you have any suggestions and ask first if they want to hear them. Don’t be offended if they say no, it’s the person who is fighting cancer who will ultimately decide on their plan of attack and they should do it their own way.
5. Stay positive – as much as you possibly can
I know it’s sometimes much easier said than done but speak positively as much as possible. Don’t tell them how sad you are, how awful it is, how you’re scared for them – these are your emotions to deal with. You’re completely entitled to them and they’re so legitimate but try not to inflict them on to that person. Except in the early diagnosis days of course when, let’s face it, everyone’s a balling mess! There are also bound to be other times you all break down together along the way.
Do make sure you look after your own mental well-being by talking to your other friends and family and stay positive for yourself. Cancer does not simply effect the person diagnosed with it, it’s everyone close to them too. Be kind to yourself. Try to keep a positive outlook for you as well as them.
6. Spare some time to help those close to the person with Cancer
Don’t forget those also affected – the partner, children, parents, best friends, carers. Think about what you might be able to do to offer support to them. Check in with them and be positive – they do not want to hear negativity either.
Listen to them, let them open up to you, offer counsel if you can. Offer support and kindness and someone they can unburden their feelings and fears on so they don’t bottle it all up.
I’ll take this opportunity to tell you all how absolutely, wonderfully amazing my husband has been throughout this whole process. I always knew he had strength but with me being the, ahem, bossier of the two of us he probably didn’t always get a chance to show just how strong he could be. I love you very much Mr M and honestly you amaze me constantly with your love and support and understanding. I digress!
The three biggest things I suppose I’m aiming to achieve by blogging about my cancer journey is raising awareness to all who might be reading and encouraging them to do all they can to not be in the position that I’m in. Check your boobs. Women and men. Check each other boobs (with permission) – go for your lives.
Secondly, I want to try my best to take the fear out of a cancer diagnosis. Not that I’m not scared because of course I am. But I’m also feeling so positive and hopeful and I’m focusing on healing myself.
Thirdly, this is a place for me to find therapy in writing. It’s a wonderful bonus that some of you are reading my posts! At the same time, just remember that you might not agree with everything I say and do and that’s 100% fine. This is just my way of dealing with a tricky situation.
You do not need to be too scared to reach out to someone with cancer. You might need to tip toe a little bit in the early days when everyone is taking in the news.
My biggest advice is to please be present – make that friend or loved one know that you are 100% there for them from day one right through to full healing for anything they need and then keep telling them that. Back it up, offer to help, tell them you love them, be positive but not blasé. Don’t disappear.
Keep their spirits up, make them laugh, forgive their mood swings and memory loss and sad days. Cry with them, then distract them from their fears and pick them up again. Use positive words. Tell them how loved they are.
If you don’t know what to say or what to do for the best, ask them. They will tell you.
With that support and love, the cancer has no chance of survival but believe me, those friendships will survive and they will last forever.
I love each and every one one of you who has reached out to me. I’m just so grateful. Watch me beat this with your help :)