Life has proven challenging for many in my various circles of life.
How many of your friends lately have been diagnosed with cancer?
I've had my own run-in's with cancer.
Though you probably mean well, it's all too easy to accidentally hurt someone.
I was walking down the hospital hall with my mother when another cancer patient had a "friend"
come up and rub her stubby head, saying, "Your hair looks great like this."
I had to restrain Mother from using her cane as a rectal thermometer on the patient's "friend."
Any comment that calls attention to hair loss or a change in hair color or texture or a wig due to chemotherapy is wiser to avoid.
Those things are usually a devastating outward sign of being different and sick to the patient.
BUT WHAT DO YOU SAY?
1. “How unfair. You must be so mad.”
These words validate their feelings and hopefully makes them feel understood.
Misery does love company.
Misery does not always love the positive spin on tragic life events such as “You are strong. You will get through this.”
When you are scared, you do not feel very strong at all.
2. Avoid asking “How are you feeling?”
You want them to know that you care, but cancer patients get asked that all the time, and they get quickly tired of that question.
And probably they are not feeling so great, and the question only reinforces that.
3. Be specific in your desire to help:
“Is there anything I can do to help?" is too broad.
Instead how about something like:
"I'd like to bring you dinner. Would Tuesday or Wednesday night be better?"
If you can't bring the person dinner, maybe you could buy groceries,
take care of his or her kids one afternoon or give the person a ride to treatment.
If there's a spouse or friend in charge of logistics, ask that person what you can do.
4. Before you speak ask yourself -
"Is this a comment about me or is it a comment that would be helpful to the patient?"
Don’t say something that would make you feel good, but something that might uplift the specific individual you are speaking to.
"God doesn't give you more than you can handle."
This might be of comfort if the person is one of faith.
But do you really know how the person is feeling spiritually at the moment?
5. Avoid saying “I know how you feel.”
No, you don’t.
Not even if you’ve survived a cancer experience. Instead stay focused on the patient's needs and concerns.
This includes telling the cancer patient about Aunt Maude’s cancer ordeal – especially if it had a fatal outcome.
6. According to Barbara L. Andersen, PhD, a researcher and professor of psychology,
Two of the best things to say are easy:
"I'm sorry you're ill" and "I'm thinking of you."
In fact, sometimes gestures speak louder than words.
For instance, sending flowers or visiting with your friend’s favorite flowers or watching TV with them can offer comfort.
If the friend has a garden they can no longer maintain,
coming over periodically and pruning the garden as they sit in a chair and chat with you would be nice.
Every cancer patient has a different opinion and experience, of course, and many know that you do mean well.
7. If the person loves a specific style of music,
bringing them the latest album of their favorite artist may say more than your words could.
Most of you are writers. You are inventive.
Just use some of that creativity in seeing the world as your ill friend is seeing it at the moment,
and you will come up with what to say and do.
My prayers and thoughts are with all of you out there struggling with crises that have enveloped you.
May all of you find that peace in the center of your storm.