Talking with Someone Who Has Cancer

Healing Forest

You’d think you’d just keep on talking like you usually do 🙂 but you know, it is hard for some folks to talk with you when you have cancer because of their own fears or just because they don’t know what to say. It may also be hard for you to talk to others about what you’re going through. It was hard on me to share with my friends, my peers, and coworkers that I had cancer – I didn’t want to bring anyone down or have them think I was going to be a sad sack to hang around with… The things we think eh? 😉

A lot of people have been touched by cancer so their response is going to be varied, and unfortunately, some people are even going to stop talking to you. Why? Because it may be too hard for them because of their own personal cancer experience or they are just too uncomfortable and that’s OK – when it comes to cancer we all need to honor one another’s feelings.  So what do I suggest from what I had learned while I was going through cancer?

  1. Let your friend, loved one, coworker with cancer know that you can’t talk to them because of your personal experiences, you don’t have to go into detail, and just let them know it isn’t because of them or anything they did.
  2. Do NOT if you can at all costs, talk about your uncle, aunt, sister who has died because of cancer 🙁 I have had a few folks do that when I was going through cancer and they weren’t being insensitive!!  They were just caught up in their sad memories, and me as a cancer educator, understood this, and listened.  But I thought if I was a regular joe, this would be devastating to hear! Actually I am kind of a regular joe and at first I didn’t know what to think, so I shined it on, the second time I thought welllll ok, and by the 3rd time, I was whoa! And started to get sad.  Let me clarify, it is ok to talk about the cancer, it is the constant talking about someone who has died because of cancer that bothered me.  When you are dealing with cancer, hearing story after story about so many cancer deaths makes it tough to hang onto hope.
  3. Please realize a person going through cancer may start crying at a drop of a hat. Cancer and chemo makes you cry; they go hand-in-hand. If you just smile, look understanding, then most folks pull themselves together and can continue on.
  4. Do not tell someone who has cancer, especially this person 😀 that they cannot do this or that because they have cancer. I think the best gift you can give someone is to still believe that they can do anything like they use to “before” the cancer.
  5. Laugh!!  Sharing laughter is one of the best timeouts from cancer!
  6. Please, please, please, I know you mean well, but if you have never personally dealt with cancer, please do not tell a person with cancer that it is all about “attitude”. You can have a good attitude, but it doesn’t help the pain, the fear, or the unknown go away.  You can have a good attitude and still be scared, mad or sad! When you’re facing cancer treatments, and wondering if you’re going to make it or not, the last thing you want to hear is “you just need a good attitude, that’s half the battle…” A lot of time I had a “bad attitude” about what I was going through, but I did my best not to vent on non-survivors, I went to my women’s cancer group to vent and get support from those who did understand what I was going through.
  7. Which brings me to 🙂 we all need to be gentle with each other and just listen, sometimes that’s all that is needed, a kind listening ear and to say I’m here for you, and a big smile does wonders. 🙂
  8. Please, if you do not know the person with cancer very well, do not offer advice unless they ask for it and DO NOT tell a person who is in active cancer treatments, some “natural” way to beat cancer or its side effects. Some over the counter or supplements can actually be harmful during cancer. They already have a cancer team to help them, what’s needed from you is a friend.
  9. And please, do not try to “diagnose” your friend, loved one, or coworker who has cancer. Once again I know folks mean well, but some days just because is person is quiet, doesn’t mean they’re depressed and need St. John’s Wort, ok?  It is OK to see if there is anything they would like you to do, sometimes just checking in and showing you care is good enough.
  10. And remember, cancer affects everyone differently, so there’s no one way to deal with cancer. Take the time to listen and don’t tell someone how they are supposed to feel when they are dancing with cancer. Shoot, I don’t like anyone telling me how to feel and I don’t think you even have to have cancer to have this one get your skirts in an uproar! 😀

Remember, we all mean well when facing cancer, and even though I have gone through cancer myself, I still get hung up on what to say when someone is facing cancer and I pray for the words to share and to comfort.  Here are some other links to suggestions on how to talk with someone with cancer.

Be gentle with one another, we are all trying to figure our way through this adventure… I wish you peace, strength and wellness.





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