My Friend has Cancer

So you’ve just heard that a good friend of yours has recently been diagnosed with cancer. You are probably in shock and extremely sad… but trust me she/he is feeling a million times sadder and more shocked! So from one who has twice experienced cancer, I can offer a few gems of how to talk to a newly diagnosed cancer patient – Mandi

1. It’s OK to cry, but not OK to lose it. Unless you are the spouse, child or parent of the person with cancer, do not put them in a situation where they have to console you. Give yourself a few days before talking to your friend. This way you can process all the information yourself and call when you are reasonably calm.

2. Don’t say, “Everything’s going to be all right.” You don’t know that. And don’t tell that person about your Aunt Shade or Uncle Femi who battled cancer and lived to be 101. Guess what, they are not Aunt Shade or Uncle Femi! These stories don’t help at all. I know that cancer doesn’t play fair, and I’m already crabby that I’m cancer’s most recent benefactor.

3. No links in the inbox, please. The offering of information to a newly diagnosed cancer patient is not always a great idea. They are already dealing with information overload. The links that tell you what causes cancer imply that we did something blameworthy. The ones that claim chemo is a pharmaceutical conspiracy will put us into a panic. The ones that offer holistic alternatives such as coffee enemas and angel readings will stress us out. (When will I find time/money for that?). And the ones that offer products for faster hair regrowth are just plain insensitive. Yes, I got every one of those links.

4. Don’t ignore it or pretend like you don’t know when you see them. I was OK with, “I really don’t know what to say.” Cancer reminds us of how vulnerable we are, so as patients we are OK with your honesty. Just remember suggestion number 1.

5. Don’t ask what you can do to help. I was too exhausted to think about everything that needed to be done and then assign tasks. Think of something, make a plan and follow through. Food is always appreciated. What needs to be done at your home? Is it the season to rake leaves or hang Christmas lights? These are things that just won’t get done during chemo but those little nuggets of normalcy are huge for the cancer patient.

6. Acknowledge. Text, email and send cards and/or flowers. Even if the patient is just an acquaintance, positive words are powerful. As patients we are going to grieve the roadblock that has been placed in our path. Reminders of what we have to be positive about put us back in balance and truly support our fight.

The one thing I can offer people who are recently diagnosed with a devastating illness is the unspoken knowledge that I get it. I get the pain, the anger and the unfairness of it all. Even so, because every situation is so unique I won’t compare our experiences or even talk about it unless she asks. Especially in the beginning. At that point, the only thing they really want to hear you say is that your in their corner.

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