Monday, October 27, 2008

What to say to cancer patients -- and what not to say

One of the most unbelievable things about this whole experience is the amazing things that people say, including loving friends and family members. Our job as patients is to accept the gifts of love and support, forgive the insensitive, and block out the negative. With the aim of blocking some negative juice today, here is what to say to a cancer patient:

1. I'm so very sorry.
2. I understand that's a really hard thing to go through
3. Wow -- that must be really difficult to face!
4. I'm really sorry.
5. What can I do to help you? (more on this below)
6. You'll be in my prayers every day/you'll be in my thoughts/I'll light candles for you.
7. May I add you to my prayer list? (Please ask and receive permission before putting a cancer patient's name on a public, published list).

And here are some examples of what NOT to say. These are things people have actually said to me:
1. Well, it could be worse.
2. My friend had a radical mastectomy and went back to work the next day.
3. You must have brought this on yourself.
4. Oh, that's no big deal these days! ( I can say this -- you don't get to)
5. You need to get treatment at a better place...those doctors are idiots.
6. My friend had that and she died in three weeks.
7. Oh my god! (Movie star) got that from drinking from plastic bottles!

Here are some things you can do to help your friend who has cancer. Many people find it hard to ask for and receive help, so you may have to ask several times. If you offer, deliver.
1. Offer to pick up and organize a playdate for a child, if the child and parents know you
2. Offer to bring dinner. Remember that cancer patients may have stringent dietary restrictions -- ASK first before showing up with dairy, caffeine, sodas, red meat, fat, sugar. Please don't bring something for the family that the patient can't eat.
3. Get together with friends and pay for cleaning service.
4. Ask if you can drive the patient to the doctor, to the physical therapist, etc.
5. If it seems relevant and you are able to offer it, ask if the patient needs financial help.

Later: "Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life," an amazing new book by David Servan-Schrieber

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