Home Tips 13 Good Things to Say to Someone with Cancer | CaringBridge

13 Good Things to Say to Someone with Cancer | CaringBridge

by Moon
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Well wishes for cancer patient

While I don’t necessarily agree that these are all the best things to say to a cancer patient, I appreciate that Caring Bridge is trying to support people in their communication, as this is not always an easy or comfortable thing to do. Here is my feedback and a few other choices, some along the lines of what they were trying to get at, hopefully a bit gentler. I think the main thing is to think ahead of time about what would be helpful to someone, and what would not — ie, you need to put effort into the preparation of your communication, not just emote on the fly. I speak regularly with patients in the nonprofit work that I do and appreciate that CB got me to sit down this morning and think again about what I am saying to people:

I would never say “Bald is beautiful” as nobody cares to be bald, and generally we do not as a society think it is beautiful, so it’s disingenuous. I might say something like, “Your hair loss is a visual manifestation of the challenge you are going through … it’s honest and courageous … and by the way: few look as lovely as you do.”

“It’s hard to imagine what it is like to be in your shoes right now. I admire your strength and courage.”

“Do you believe in prayer? Would you like me to pray for you?” (And if they say no, then…). “Well, know I will be holding you in my thoughts.”

Sometimes “this stinks” works and sometimes it does not. You might instead say (similar to what Beverly Dean suggested): “This is a bump in the road … a really big bump, though. Step by step, you’ll get over it. It won’t be easy, but before you know it, you’ll be on the downhill side.”

“How can I help you? Can I watch the kids (or clean the house next Tuesday, or grab groceries for you tomorrow…).”

MAYBE “I know a funny xxx joke. Would you like to hear it?” (or, skip the joke unless the patient jokes first, indicating they are up for joking around — but I would never throw a joke out there unless someone indicates they want to hear it)

“You are not alone.”

“Any time you need to talk, I’ll listen.”

“Are you open to having visitors right now?” (“What day is good for a visit?’ presumes they want to see you when perhaps they do not)

Here, I must be critical. “You’ve got this” is such a ridiculous thing to say that I am surprised that CB included it. If people “had this” they would not need reassurance in the first place … and we know by the mortality rates that in fact, people don’t have this — they die of cancer. I am more inclined to say: “Because we are not medical professional, it can be hard to appreciate just what modern medicine can accomplish. But people have been cured of your illness in the past. I hope the treatment goes smoothly for you and you have a good outcome.”

“This doesn’t define you.” You have to be careful of who you say this one to, too. Some people have cancer treatment for so long or it is so physically debilitating that at some level they are consumed with it, thus it can become pretty defining. I would say this: “There are so many things to love and admire about you. Your sense of humor. Your patience as a mother, even though that can be challenging right now (it is always challenging). Your voracious appetite for a good book …. your ability to forge friendship and community. I know the cancer is there, but when I think of you, I first think of these other things, as they are what defines you.”

“When you find moments when you are feeling better, how are you spending your time?” I would not say, “Hey, have you seen the last episode of Game Of Thrones?” After all: maybe they have been busy sleeping, hoping to have enough strength to eat, throwing up. Something about “Have you seen the latest tv show?” diminishes what the person is going through.

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