As a friend, family member, or caregiver, talking with a cancer patient can often feel like walking on eggs. What should you say? What does she want to hear? What will help? This - all of this.
1. I’m your shoulder to cry on – literally.
You can cry, and I’ll hug you. Whine, and I’ll sympathize. Rage, and I’ll bear witness. Nothing you say or do will make me stop loving you.
2. You have tough decisions to make. I can help.
Use me as a sounding board. I promise to listen without judging; I won’t try to influence your decisions, unless you ask for my opinion.
3. How are you feeling, really? I want to know.
You hate burdening people with your problems, so when someone asks how you’re doing, you usually answer, “I’m fine, how are you?” You don’t have to play that game with me. If you feel horrible, tell me. Don’t worry about my feelings; I can share your pain.
4. Let’s go to a movie. Preferably a comedy.
There’s nothing like sitting in the dark with a crowd of people, watching a funny movie on the big screen and everyone laughing their heads off. Trust me on this.
5. Do you want to talk about dying?
I’m sure you’ve thought about death. And I’ll bet it makes you feel frightened and totally alone. Want to talk about it? I don’t mind.
6. I promise never to tell you someone else’s horrible cancer story.
I know it’s irritating and frustrating when people tell you awful stories about a friend of a friend who went through cancer. What are they thinking, right? I’ll never repeat someone else’s cancer story to you; your story is all we need.
7. Want to go for a walk?
There’s something about being outside – seeing that big open sky, breathing fresh air, feeling the breeze – that makes life seem a bit brighter. Too tired? We can just sit on the step in the sun. It’s being outdoors that counts.
8. Let me run to the drugstore for you.
I know you’ve got a prescription to pick up, and standing in that long line at the pharmacy is the last thing you need right now, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I’ll call first and find out how much it’s going to cost. And no, you’re not putting me out – I’m happy to help.
9. C’mon, let’s go for a ride.
I know you’re too tired to do much of anything besides sit in a chair or lie in bed. And I’ll bet you’re sick of staring at the four walls. Let’s go down to the parking lot at the beach and watch the waves.
10. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever known.
And that’s a compliment – not something you have to live up to. Just coming as far as you have takes unbelievable strength and courage. I know there are days when you feel anything but strong, and on those days, don’t be afraid to break down in front of me. Good days or tough days, I’m here for you. Always.
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Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.