WHAT TO SAY OR NOT SAY TO SOMEONE DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER

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I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this has either known someone, or will know someone who is diagnosed with cancer. I read about women being diagnosed daily, because I am part of two on line support groups. I have been thinking lately about what are the right and wrong things to say to someone who has just been diagnosed. Then this happened on Friday. I had a doctors appointment, and was sent for a chest x-ray. The nurse giving me the x-ray was so sweet and was asking me about my cancer. I told her that I had had Triple Negative, and she looked at me like I had just told her that I ran over my dog. Then she said, “oh my gosh…the really bad kind”!  I’ve had this reaction several times before, but coming from a nurse was quite different. Not thinking that was the the right thing she should have said!

So what do you say, and what do you not say. I asked the help of one of my support groups to let me know the answer to these two questions. There were some really interesting things not to say that were actually said to them. First, let me say, that when you are in the situation, it is hard to know what to say. Most people want to say the right thing, but sometimes you stick your foot in your mouth (I’ve done it a million times!), because you are nervous or unprepared. So let’s start with what to say.

I think all of us that have been diagnosed like to hear, that we are being prayed for. That was something I couldn’t hear enough. Don’t treat them any different than you ever had. Asking them how they are feeling is a good question, along with “let me know if you need to talk, I am here to listen”. I think it is nice to say, “I am bringing you a treat, tell me what sounds good”, or “I am bringing you a gift”. I had several friends that would just randomly leave me treats outside my door. And, a couple friend of ours would have us to their house almost every Sunday night for dinner to get me out of the house.  Cards are always a good idea with a note to say that you are thinking about them and sending prayers or good thoughts. I think one of the best things you can say is, ” I am sorry you are going through this, but I have faith you will beat it”. Or, as my daughter in law kept saying to me, “you are a bad-ass”. I really started to believe I was! Being persistent is something else that I and others found helpful. It was so nice to get phone messages and texts, even when I wasn’t up to talking, I knew I was being thought of.

So, what do you not say. First and foremost, “are you going to die?”, and” how much time do you have?” are not welcomed sentences! If hair loss is associated with chemo, do not say,” it’s just hair it will grow back”,  “at least you get to see what you look like with short hair”, or “are you bald yet?” Big NO NO’S!!! And, please don’t say, my aunt, uncle, sister, whoever, had that and died. “You are lucky you caught it early”, seems like a benign statement, but what is lucky about having cancer? If it is breast cancer, to say “well at least you get a free boob job” is another NO NO! Saying “I know how you feel” is not something else I would suggest. You don’t know how they feel, unless you have been through it.

What I will reiterate is how much it means to a cancer patient to have people reach out and let them know that you are thinking about them. It is a long, scary and lonely road, and I can’t imagine not having the support while going through it. Life goes on, but even the smallest gestures mean so much. Please let me know if I can help or answer a question. I have a new “ask Cathy” icon on the top right of the page. And as always, thank you for reading this!

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