Tips for Talking to Someone Who is Fighting Cancer
Everybody knows someone who has cancer. And if it’s a family member or a close friend, you’ve probably talked to them about it. Which can be extremely difficult; there is no easy answer when trying to figure out what to say to someone who literally is staring down death.
The reality is that, in 2012, people are living and working with cancer more than ever before. They aren’t confined to a cancer ward; they’re sitting at the next desk. Way too many people sit there awkwardly with no idea what to say. It isn’t that they don’t want to help – it’s just that they don’t know how and they don’t want to say or do the wrong thing.
Rather than having you wonder about the proper “cancer etiquette,” here are some guidelines for speaking with people with cancer:
- Acknowledge it. Just come right out and address the situation. Ignoring it doesn’t help anyone; it just makes everything awkward. Sincerely expressing your thoughts is the best way to demonstrate that you care.
- Think before you speak. This is not a good time for an unthinking faux pas. Avoid words like “terminal.”
- Don’t be an expert. Unless of course you are an expert. But assuming you’re not a doctor, don’t try to solve the patient’s problem. You’re just trying to be helpful but the odds are that you don’t know what you’re talking about. And that’s fine. Your role is not to cure; it’s to care.
- Shut up and listen. This should be a normal conversation, albeit on a difficult subject. You don’t have to smother the patient with an avalanche of words. Let them talk. Don’t rush to have all the answers, because you don’t, and they don’t expect you to.
- Act normal. You don’t need to juggle for your friend to entertain him or her. Drastically altering your behavior is a signal that you’re worried; acting normally can be a soothing indication that everything is going to be okay. And most cancer patients don't want to be treated differently because of their cancer.
- Talk about something else. This is a corollary to the previous point. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give is a few moments respite from obsessing over the disease. An extended conversation about the Eagles’ prospects for the coming season might not always seem soothing, but it is a welcome diversion.
View additional information about Crozer-Keystone Health System cancer services or visit http://ckcancer.crozerkeystone.org. You can also call 1-866-695-HOPE (4673) to request an appointment with a physician who cares for cancer patients.