People with cancer want to know that those around them love them, and can offer help and support. There are plenty of articles out there on what not to say to someone who has cancer, but what should you say?
Sometimes, the simplest response is the best response. Say you are there for them, and mean it. People with cancer tend to find a major shift in their relationships when they are in cancer treatment, and bad friends tend to get weeded out pretty quickly.
Where some will step up and help them out, there will also be a loss of some friendships, because some people can’t cope with a cancer diagnosis and avoid them.
Sometimes they just need someone to vent to. Many patients put on a happy face, when inside they are a boiling pot of turmoil. They might feel like they don’t have a safe place to vent out many of their frustrations and worries. Same goes for caretakers; they also need somewhere safe to talk.
They should be allowed to say they are extremely exhausted from balancing work, caring for their loved one, and life. Trying to be positive all of the time is exhausting and sometimes they just need to be able to talk about their fears, pain, and what they are going through.
Laura Snyder, who writes Thoughts on Cancer, suggests asking what they are craving and bringing it. Same goes for housecleaning, childcare, anything you can do to help. Offering specific help is the best kind to offer.
You have to juggle so many things when you have cancer, it can be overwhelming to ask for help when you end up needing it. Also, offer help throughout their treatment. A lot of the time, help comes in waves, everyone offers to cook dinner at once, and then three months into chemo, no one is.
This was shared by Beth Caldwell of The Cult of Perfect Motherhood. Unless you know the patient’s circumstance (and even if you do), hearing about the glorious number of people who survived and didn’t survive a particular form of cancer is not particularly helpful when you are in the thick of things. This is an even bigger deal for someone with terminal cancer.
Same goes for anyone trying to convince the patient that their treatment is poison, and that alternative therapies are the way to go. Offer to be the voice of reason, even if it is just for a laugh.
The cancer patient may have experiences and happy things they want to do in the midst of their treatment (or after). Not everyone has a bucket list, but priorities typically shift over to family, friends, and experiences being an even larger priority.
Taking the patient out for a fun experience (even if it is just a trip to the movies) or helping them fulfill a lifelong dream will mean a lot to them.
Knowing that you are actively on someone’s mind and that they care about you is comforting. Avoid noting that your “thinking about them” involves you bawling your eyes out for three hours. No one wants to hear that they are breaking your heart and that you are worried about them.
It is perfectly okay to not feel like you have the right thing to say. It is better than saying nothing at all. No one is truly an expert on what you should say, and everyone is different. Being honest when you are tongue-tied is perfectly alright. The cancer patient may guide you on what they need or what is helpful for them.