Your Words Have Power: Six Tips for Talking to Someone with Cancer
Choice Cancer Care offers ideas on what to say when you don’t know what to say
By: Choice Cancer Care
“For a patient with any type of cancer, that support system is everything,”
Need somewhere to start? Choice Cancer Care offers the following six tips for speaking with someone who has cancer:
Stay in touch with them! Some people can be so afraid of saying something wrong that they don’t say anything at all. This is the worst thing you can do because that friend or family member already feels different, isolated and alone simply because they are struggling with something so big. It’s easy to say, “I’m here for you,” and “I want to listen,” or even, “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I’m here.” Do this consistently.
Leave the pity party at home. It’s tough to listen to someone who is struggling with something like this and not have a pitiful look on your face or in your voice – but try.
“They will get a lot of this,” said Dr. Echt. “Try to listen and be open, but don’t pity or baby them. This is not going to help.” Also, don’t make a martyr out of them or use words like “hero” or “battle” or “war.” Speak to them like a real person.
But don’t blow it off. The flip side of leaving the pity out is a flippant attitude toward the very real, serious situation your loved one is facing. Don’t minimize their experience, tell them it’s “no big deal” or that “plenty of people have it.” The truth is that even in a best-case scenario, cancer is not an easy thing to deal with, and your friend or loved one will have a journey ahead of them. Support them; don’t quantify their experience for them. Resist the urge to compare it to someone else’s cancer experience. They are all different and all require unique treatment plans and result in different outcomes.
Look beyond the physical. Cancer and its treatment can be rife with many external appearance changes, depending on the diagnosis and treatment. From hair loss to weight loss, skin appearance and more, cancer can result in many changes to a person’s external self. Don’t comment on it. If asked, just let them know how strong or beautiful you think they are. Remember that there is so much more to someone than simply appearances.
Just listen. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. Make it clear that your ears, your brain and your heart are “on” and open for your friend or loved one.
Listen without interrupting. Ask questions when appropriate. Be comfortable with just sitting in silence with that person, if that’s what they want. Just be a friend, and be there.
Speak loudly through actions. Show that person that they are loved with those little things that mean so much. Give a hug, place a phone call, run an errand, offer baby-sitting services, bring them a cup of coffee, ask what day you can bring them dinner – as in most relationships, it’s the small things that mean a lot. Think through that person’s daily routine to find ways to help brighten it. The more thought you put in, the more it will mean. A little love can go a long way.
“Patients who have a loving, supportive network often are able to focus more on their treatment and recovery,” said Dr. Echt. “We want our patients to have every advantage, and friends and family surrounding them with love and assistance is a good thing.”
The goal of Choice Cancer Care is to give each patient an individualized treatment care plan that takes into account all options and works with the patient, his or her family, and their lifestyle to achieve the best result possible. Choice Cancer Care specializes in treatment for all kinds of adult cancers, including: prostate, breast, lung, brain, throat, pancreatic and many more. Dr. Echt is well-known for pioneering prostate seed therapy (brachytherapy)
More information about Choice Cancer Care offices, as well as information on various types of cancer diagnoses and treatment, can be found on the group’s website at www.choicecancercare.com.
Please note that this information is not intended, nor implied to be a substitute for, professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding your medical care.